Whose job is innovation?
I have written a lot about the different roles and responsibilities regarding innovation and about innovation processes and culture in the organisation.
However, how innovation actually happens in the organisation is not a one size fits all, and depending on the type of organisation, the culture and some other factors, there are different ways of going about making it happen. For example, innovation in a high-tech company might be driven by a few highly skilled and qualified subject-matter experts in the R & D department, whereas in a general service organisation, it might be everybody’s job. For me, this has always been a grey area in organisational innovation and it is arguable that it is a case of “horses for courses”, depending on each organisation’s context and circumstances. So, I came across this insightful article by Jeffrey Phillips of OVO Consulting on this topic, and with his permission, I want to share some of the key take-outs of this article that got to the crux of this matter. Whose job is it, anyway? So the first point that Phillips makes is that in all organisations, people are working hard to ensure results and have more than enough work to do each day. On top of that they are constantly in meetings to update their managers on their progress…
Then, on top of this hyperactive work schedule, executives become aware that innovation is vitally important, and somewhat absent from the schedule of work or activities. What to do? Why, we’ll simply layer on an added expectation that each team create some “innovation” on top of their already busy schedule. There. That’s done. But he then further argues that this is unfortunately not the one answer, and there is a range of answers. He also mentions the fact that it ranges from innovation being everyone’s job, to being isolated to the sole mandate of the “experts”. While it is clear that either of these answers can potentially be true, it should also be clear that neither are ideal. If “everyone” is responsible for innovation, then eventually no one is truly responsible, and the energy to change a culture to truly enable everyone to be responsible for innovation is far more than most executives are willing to expend. If small expert teams are responsible for innovation, you will generate good ideas, but rarely implement any of them, due to conflicts between the innovation teams and the rest of the business. He then raises the crucial point that what are missing from both of these extremes are ownership and leadership. I quote: “Innovation requires teams to do new things and do them differently, while still maintaining the status quo products and processes. It requires the desire to dig deeply into new ideas while still understanding and managing existing products and services. It requires experimentation and investigation while fully understanding how to cross the bridge from idea to product development, and product development to successful launch. Someone or some teams need to be held accountable for innovation”. This leads to the realisation that the people who should be held accountable and responsible for innovation – the people whose job it is – are mid and senior level managers who lead lines of business, who lead product groups or product teams. Unless and until these people are held accountable, and become, if not experts, at least champions for innovation, there will be little real output or outcome. Phillips concludes with the final advice that once we understand who is accountable for innovation outcomes, then we can begin to decide how to allocate the work of innovation, how to establish priorities, how to decide who gets the innovation training and how their time and focus will be reallocated. If executives want innovation, they need to place the responsibility where it belongs, on their management team