Thursday, January 11, 2018

Passion and executive commitment tap the well of ideas

I had the opportunity recently to lead some training workshops with a midwestern company that is a leader in its field, but recognized it needed to do more to stay ahead of the competition.  Frankly, sometimes leading innovation training feels like going through the motions - we innovators talk about innovation methods and tools, and the attendees listen politely then go back and do whatever it is they do day to day, and not much innovation happens.  I'll admit that I've led some sessions and workshops where I am sure that very little follow through occurred.  But that wasn't the case this time.

Not long after the workshops were complete I got a call from the executive sponsor, who was so excited about the results and the work his teams were doing on innovation.  He felt they had more, and better ideas than they would have without the sessions, and called to say thanks.  It's rewarding when a client team really engages, and it made me think about what factors signify the differences between successful innovation activities spawned from innovation training, and other training sessions and workshops that don't lead to any new activity.

What made the difference

It was easy for me to see what made the difference between this engagement, which led to a lot of innovation, and others, which I'm sad to say led to little or none.  There were several factors involved:
  • The company was a leader in its field and provides real incentives for entrepreneurship.
  • Employees who generate new ideas and create new products or lines of business are provided real opportunities for growth and compensation.  
  • The senior leadership team is fully engaged in innovation - many of them had already been through our workshops and recognized the power of a defined innovation methodology
What's more, the executive team, as demonstrated by the executive sponsor, had real commitment and passion for innovation.  They were convinced their people could create great ideas that would drive value for themselves and the business as a whole.  The executive team believed in their people, demonstrated their commitment to innovation and trusted that with the right tools and methods, they could create new products and services.

Many executives aren't willing to allow their teams to fully explore the innovation possibilities, worried that they'll waste time or get sidetracked, or distracted from day to day operations.  Some simply don't think their teams are very innovative, or have good ideas.  People understand the spoken and unspoken executive thinking and respond accordingly.  Fortunately in this case there was a vocal champion, backed by an engaged management team.

Executive Commitment, Passion and Trust

It's this commitment, passion and belief or trust that matters so much when you enter into a potentially strange or uncertain activity like innovation.  Commitment demonstrates that you won't simply stall out when unforeseen events occur or barriers rise up.  Passion keeps the team engaged and certain of support even when challenges emerge.  Trust says to the team that while the journey may be a bit rocky or uncertain we believe you'll arrive at a great destination.

I believe that many, many companies of all sizes, in all industries have a huge well of innovation just waiting to be tapped.  That well is represented in its employees and their knowledge of the needs, product gaps and customer demands that just aren't filled with current products and services.  These employees need tools and methods to help accelerate innovation activities, but first they need to know that executives want innovation and will invest in it - that it's not simply lip service.  The employees need to know that executives will commit, support them and trust them to do the right things even when tools are new or outcomes are unusual.

There are huge, untapped and unexpected reservoirs of innovation in most corporations.  Perhaps the largest untapped source of corporate wealth and capital that is simply sitting there, waiting to be unleashed.  Executive teams need to move beyond financial engineering and cost cutting and shift their focus to the enormous potential of innovation, and the easily accessed value at their fingertips.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:54 AM


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