“On Call Innovation Director/Mentor/Trainer”?
What really changes innovation culture? Are you seeking a change in your innovation approach? Is your organization mired in a non-innovative swamp?
First let me say what does NOT change innovation culture. It’s not that these services that I’ll mention below can’t be helpful, they can. But on there own, they will not change innovation at your organization. There’s one thing that will change culture and I talk about that at the bottom of this post. Don’t skip ahead.
* Let me acknowledge the ideas of author Michael Foster — we discussed these concepts about a Temp Veep over coffee in San Jose a few weeks ago (@MichaelFostertw). Much of what I say here I owe to that conversation and it inspired me to write this post.
What Won’t Change Innovation Culture:
- A one or two day intensive workshop or training by an innovation guru. I do these sorts of gigs, they are a lot of fun, and I think high value. The information can be helpful, maybe even motivationally useful. If the innovation group is motivated, and, has a mandate to do innovation, a training intensive can work as a kick start. However, if there are politics going on, if the leader of the innovation team isn’t strong or well trained, or if there is a lack of hope — it can be a waste of time and money. Political infighting and a lack of momentum can stop a well-intentioned, but poorly led innovation initiative. Don’t let it happen.
- Conducting a culture assessment to figure out where your innovation culture is right now, a checkpoint. Yes, it is interesting to know, but if you’re asking the question, don’t you already know the answer? The answer is, something’s wrong. If everything was going along swell in innovation would you be asking? I doubt it. It is useful to get metrics on the state of things, but having those metrics will not change anything. Maybe you need “proof” that the culture is broken, maybe in order to get more resources — and you’d like to know How it’s broken. That’s all fair, but again, it won’t change a thing. What will change things? Keep reading.
- Having an outside agency or consultancy execute an innovation project. The project itself may work, you might get results, but, it will only change the culture of the organization as long as the consultants are around. The culture shift leaves when they drive away. It shifts back to where it was before the hipster agency got involved. The hipster agency or consultant probably will not focus on helping you build your culture, instead, they tend to focus on the results they’ll be measured by. It might even be worse than allowing innovation to flounder — because the message you’re giving your people is: “You Can’t Do Innovation.”
So, you might ask, what does work to change innovation culture?
One thing changes innovation culture: Projects.
Projects your people do — and are charged to do — change innovation culture. I’m nearly quoting my friend and innovation mentor, Min Basadur, the man who did so much incredible work for P&G. Projects on an on-going basis, ideally on a once a quarter cycle.
Innovation projects can be very difficult to lead.
Leading an Innovation Project is challenging — after all innovation nearly by its very nature challenges the status quo. And people resist that kind of change. In an organization where the politics are weird and innovation is a bad word, or people (management) are risk averse, an internal project manager has an uphill battle getting a mandate, resources, and attention. It can happen, but it takes a person who’s aggressive, a good leader and is not afraid to risk their job. And– they have to know process.
Why not hire an “On call,” that is, temporary, Innovation Veep?
Why? Because the right person will have the skill to negotiate the politics, and will know innovation process well enough to keep a project(s) moving forward. Because that person will be hired by management, he or she will also have their support getting started. Ideally the project works well, people learn, and then the temporary director moves on. This would be something like a two month to four month engagement. Once the team is trained in process and has a project under their belt, the temp Innovation Veep hands the reins over to an internal project manager. Culture change has started to happen, the internal team with newly trained leadership can continue the effort.
Caveat: I think it’s important to emphasize the need for a “capability building” type person, not just a temporary manager, not just a “get it done” consultant. A person with training, mentoring, and process knowledge skills is what you want. It’s also important to find a person who does Not want a career, but has a limited time mandate. A true temporary leader is not threatening to the folks vying for power in the C-suite, and that is not a trivial thing to minimize. That fact alone might be the whole reason this idea makes sense.
A large percentage of innovation projects do fail. You still have to keep doing them. One project does not change an innovation culture. A series of innovation projects do. Get the assistance you need to crank up regular innovation cycles — that might mean hiring a Temporary Innovation Veep.
As always, please let me know your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org.