Who takes responsibility for driving innovation in the company?
The Corporate Innovation Manager by Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions.
I have written many articles on how organisations should innovate, looking at things like aligning innovation to strategy, the appropriate culture, leadership, incentivising innovation, generating and evaluating ideas, etc.
However, these days, with innovation being such an important issue for organisations, many organisations have a dedicated person to drive innovation and to achieve and establish all these things I write about….and I have never given attention to this role in the organisation. It is a position most probably unheard of 10 years ago, and they are usually given titles such as “Innovation Manager” or “Chief Innovation Officer” and I want to commit this article to them and the daunting challenge they have.
Although the concept of innovation has long been part of the corporate lexicon, the inclusion of a Chief Innovation Officer (or similar) position at the executive level, demonstrates an increased understanding and appreciation of the discipline of innovation and its importance for organisational competitiveness and ultimately its survival.
There are different approaches amongst organisations in terms of what the innovation manager actually does, but in my view, the innovation manager is the ultimate change agent, and has three distinct roles.
Firstly, to keep an eye on customer / consumer tendencies and new technologies. He or She must help the organisation to apprehend customer behaviour trends and leverage the new technologies that are affecting its business.
Secondly, to educate and inform. She or He should be educating and informing employees as to what innovation is, the different tools and skills they require to innovate, and make it understandable in light of their daily challenges.
Thirdly, to change culture, structures, processes and environment. He or She must work on changing an organisation’s culture, structure, processes and physical space in order to foster more collaborative working relationships, risk-taking behaviour, the collisions that lead to innovative ideas, and the teamwork that facilitates execution of ideas. A daunting challenge indeed.
So how should an innovation manager go about to achieve success? Jeffrey Baumgartner hits it on the head for me with his three choices for the kind of innovation manager you want to be.
1. Cautiously Ineffectual. This is the easiest approach. You implement an idea management system to capture ideas from employees, you run brainstorms and you hire a corporate creativity trainer to run a few conventional creativity workshops.
2. Serious About Innovation. The serious innovation manager understands the constraints to innovation in her or his organisation, but also recognises opportunities. With an understanding of corporate innovation and knowledge of what is realistically capable of within the company, the serious innovation manager takes innovation to the next step. They focus the idea generation process on corporate strategic vision and struggle to find ways to ensure more ideas are implemented.
3. The Innovative Innovation Manager. He or She identifies barriers to innovation in their organisation and tries to break them down or work out ways around those barriers. In particular, they look at the barriers that prevent creative ideas from being taken seriously, let alone implemented.
They try to launch initiatives that work, such as skunkworks, innovative business plan competitions and training programmes that go beyond the usual creativity workshops. They really try to make their employer more innovative and try to change things in a big way in an organisation full of people who do not like change very much.
So which one are you going to be…?
I trust you now have a better understanding of what an innovation manager does and the extreme challenges this role entails. The reality, however, is that the innovation manager can not do everything on his or her own, but is usually supported by an innovation team.
So next time I will discuss the innovation team, its roles and responsibilities. I conclude with a quote from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.
About the writer Rikus Grobler
After a career of over a decade in the manufacturing and IT industries, Rikus established a specialist business and management consulting firm (Namibia Innovation Solutions) in Windhoek in 2010. Rikus has an MBA and also holds degrees in Engineering and Law. He is also a certified Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) and he is currently pursuing a PhD degree, focusing on the field of innovation. His passion is corporate innovation and he has consulted in this field for some of the major organisations in Namibia. You can e-mail him at [email protected] or visit his website at www.nis.co.na