From innovation ambition to investment

Leaders leading

Bold leaders leading. (Courtesy CLA)

In my last post I talked about the need to set your ambition to succeed in innovation. While you need ambition you also need results.

Innovation initiatives without results are destined to be consigned to the annals of last year’s management fad. So how do we make that all-important move from ambition to results?

The clue is in the title: Investment. Often our initial ambition outweighs our investment.

I remember meeting an innovation leader at a conference recently that was heading a new initiative at his company. Throughout the day we saw some truly motivating presentations that showed us how energizing corporate innovation can be. Most of these presentations highlighted the importance of results together with the ambitions they set themselves. This really demonstrated to the new innovation chief the things he needed to consider and take back to his company.

Over coffee we started to talk about his company’s ambition for innovation and we moved onto the key metrics he was looking to achieve this year. It was good to hear he knew what his company wanted to achieve, but then came the crunch question came up that had been bothering him all morning.

Do you think I have enough investment in place to realize our ambition?

He reflected during the morning that his company had ambition, senior sponsorship – all the essential ingredients to commence an innovation initiative. They’d even identified initially how to measure the success of this ambition but he needed the right kind of investment to get the effort off the ground to achieve their goals and through the morning it had become apparent they didn’t have enough. So what could be done about this?

We discussed his options:

  • Increase our internal investment to meet our current ambition
  • Increase our external investment to meet our current ambition
  • Blend our internal and external investment to meet our current ambition
  • Phase our ambition over time to match our investment levels
  • Innovate how we achieve the required investment levels

Internal investment was clear – we could see a definite business case that needed development and deployment over time. External investment presented some interesting options. First, there was huge benefit from instant innovation expertise and bandwidth on-board. No need to wait while you go through recruitment, training, scaling, etc. There are benefits to a blended approach as well, if you hire the experts and phase in your own resources. Finally, innovating how the investment levels could be achieved opened up a host of clever options.

We drew several conclusions. We realized that momentum was key here. The ability to deploy Innovation as a Service was necessary to maintain that momentum as we looked to build up internal resources to meet our innovation ambition.

From a deployment perspective, losing momentum was a significant risk.  It could undermine the importance/immediacy of the initiative to the company and could lose the senior support/interest behind it.

No matter what the senior management sets out to do, they want results and they want them quickly. So instead of staring at a first-quarter innovation management report that highlights key deliverables along the lines of “hired team,” “undertook training program” and “commenced the designing of our innovation processes,” we’re in a far better position.

We can add significant pieces like “strategic assessment completed,” “operational pipeline created,” “innovation processes in place.” Importantly, we will also have the first series of innovations identified, and with the project team in place, realized. This will give us something all senior leaders want: an initial ROI that clearly communicates we’re on the path to success.

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