It's often said that for any organisation to pursue a truly meaningful innovation agenda, senior executive leadership, engagement and support is an absolute prerequisite.
Last year, leading academics and consultants in the field of innovation strategy and capability undertook design research into how the Chairs and CEO's of some twenty leading Australian corporations view innovation.
Going well beyond the usual survey, they held wide ranging, semi-structured conversations - employing scenarios, examples and stories - to discover the culture and behaviours that are driving results.
As well as synthesising their findings, the authors also made note of what wasn't said, the capabilities and approaches that weren't on the radar of the majority, but which they would expect to hear from those in such positions with organisations regarded as innovation leaders.
It forms the basis of a useful, whilst not exhaustive, checklist for any organisation serious about developing their innovation capability:
- Do you have a shared language around innovation? It is after all a broad topic, so having frameworks to distinguish the level of ambition - such as Three Horizons - and the nature of innovation - such as the Ten Types are key. Not to mention getting very clear on the difference between ideation, invention and innovation.
- Do you have an innovation strategy? One that is distinct from your business plan? Unless the two are clearly delineated, it is almost inevitable that any innovation effort will become constrained by the KPI's of the operating business, diluted and falter.
- Do you allocate capital to support your innovation agenda? Entrepreneurial firms don't have to put up a business case to draw from the operational expenditure budget. They have a clearly delineated innovation fund to draw on, to research and test ideas with real potential customers, before the creation of elaborate market models and business cases.
- Is your innovation strategy focused on the customer? While innovation can transform operating models, and drive new product development, for many service organisations the value today lies in re-imagining the customer experience, and having that drive business transformation.
- Do you explore how technology can generate new business models? As the corollary to the above, it is of course vital to consider the potential application of new technologies to open up new business models, as much as it is to be wary of the disruption they can wreak on existing models.
- Do you embrace open innovation? Collaboration with external parties is anathema to many established organisations, yet embraced by innovation leaders, entrepreneurs and creative industries who thrive on the fresh perspectives that new collaborators bring rather than focusing on any loss of control.
- Do you set accountability for innovation? The authors note that, if the old adage, ‘what gets measured, gets done’ applies to innovation, then not much would get done. They heard that Boards expect senior executives to lead innovation, but no mention of how that turned into accountabilities or KPIs.
Steve Blank, the serial entrepreneur and innovation thought leader whose teaching was instrumental to the development of Lean Startup methodologies, has similarly found that within large corporations, in the absence of fundamental, CEO led change in organisational structures and culture, no amount of 'innovation theatre' will move the needle on innovation effort. Budget, process and people need to be owned and integrated by a C-level leader with clear accountability and an intrapreneurial mindset.