10 Elements of an Innovation Mandate

InnovationMandateGetting a Mandate to Innovate is Key

Larger companies typically have an innovation process in place. They don’t always work, but the majority of the Fortune 1000 has some kind of innovation process or system. There is an implied consent then, to innovate, at those organizations. There are people, budgets, expectations.

At smaller companies, the Mis-Fortune 5000 as I sometimes jest, there is often not a process in place. In many of these still sizable firms innovation tends to be a reaction to an emergency, or a sporadic effort that takes a back seat to operations. They often default to incremental improvement of the product or service based on customer demands.

A newly appointed Innovation VP or Director at a Mis-Fortune company like this is essentially starting from scratch. People in that position scramble to find a process they can adopt. That’s a good thing. Nearly any process is better than no process. Deliberate or structured Innovation can be defined as proactive management of risk, and the sooner you get after it, with some kind of process the better off you’re going to be. At the core of nearly any process is… a project.


Stumbling into innovation projects without a mandate is a disaster waiting to happen.

I’ve seen the following scenario happen: New Innovation Director gets a project started. Forms an ad hoc team. Finds an opportunity area, then the team jams ideas and even does some feasibility and research to polish up a Pitch. Maybe even a prototype. Then they do a Pitch to management and the whole thing blows up. Management says No. Maybe a reprimand. Maybe even a firing. The Innovation Director rightly asks, what did you hire me for? It won’t be said out loud, but it’s often window dressing. Not every company has the motivation to innovate. And that is not often acknowledged. Even at big companies with in-place innovation processes, a Mandate for innovation makes sense, because an implied consent leaves wiggle room for, “we didn’t really approve this.”

Why would Executive Management say No?

Lots of reasons, here’s a list:

  • The big guy (or gal) is a control freak and is basically upset that a project is going on without approval. Best way to demonstrate displeasure? Say No.
  • Management wanted to be involved. Leaders like to be involved when it’s something strategic.
  • Management had an idea for another kind of innovation project entirely, something more strategic, or, something more tactical.
  • The surprise factor had Exec. Management vomiting on the ideas. Big ideas can be quite jarring to the stomach. I’m serious, big ideas are upsetting and the initial reaction can be projectile vomit, not literally, but you take my meaning.
  • Management knows something you don’t, in terms of the market, or the context of a project. With involvement they could have steered the project in the right direction.
  • Management has an entirely different agenda and innovation is upsetting the apple cart.

You get the idea.

You Need a Mandate.

I’m not the first person to say this, but to proceed with an innovation effort you need a Mandate. An Executive Mandate. As my father used to say about golf, “all bets are made on the first tee.” A mandate is what you need to avoid mis-understandings later. It’s making a bet from the outset that everyone can live with.

What does that look like? Here are 10 Elements of an Innovation Mandate

  1. Permission to begin
  2. Permission to form a team and time for those people to work on Innovation
  3. A project or opportunity area (and a list of same)
  4. An understanding that there will be on-going front-end-of-innovation projects
  5. A process, even a simple one, for running projects
  6. An expectation of project timing(s), in other words, is it a month, a quarter, a year?
  7. An understanding that the effort will be supported from the top down
  8. Touch points during the process to confirm direction, including a final Pitch meeting
  9. An agreement to resource those ideas that pass through the Pitch meeting with a Yes (fund the back end of innovation)
  10. The ability to monitor and measure the various steps in the process and project cycles, other words Metrics

There are details under each of these that are context specific, but the above can form the basis of the Mandate.

Having the Mandate discussion might lead to compromises, additions, or changes to how things are done. That’s exactly what you want, agreement to innovate. Get everyone on the same page and then get started on projects! Use the above as a starting point, a discussion guide for getting a Mandate. Use it. Please!




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