Who’s accountable for innovation?

by: Natalie Giroux

I believe innovation is essential in everything we do. Without innovation, human beings would not improve or solve challenges. It’s a vital part of our human desire to create, grow, improve and transform. It’s critical to long term success. Thinking about innovation is not optional, or a fad that will go away. In fact, you could equate not thinking about innovation to falling asleep at the wheel while driving. Yes, in the right circumstances, you could probably coast forward with your eyes closed and your foot on the gas, but eventually you are in for a rude awakening. Throughout my career, I’ve spent a lot of time working with innovative companies and studying why companies fail to innovate. Three main reasons continue to surface: accountability, culture and distraction. In this post I’ll discuss accountability and the role it plays in developing and systemizing an innovation strategy.

Serendipity sometimes leads to innovation, but to succeed a company can’t rely on luck. The process needs to be deliberate and ongoing in order to bring concrete results. Someone needs to be accountable for innovation, but who?

If you ask an executive team who is accountable for innovation, you will likely get either a slightly awkward silence or a number of people claiming they have some form of accountability. Rarely does one executive feel that they ‘own’ the innovation agenda. This accountability confusion is one of the key reasons why many organizations struggle to systematize and develop their innovation system.

When it comes to innovation, there is often no centralized management mechanism. This leaves organizations with no system in place to ensure that ideas are not lost and that the organizational climate is primed for creativity and continual innovation. For example, the marketing department has accountability for market research and is responsible for understanding what the customer needs. Similarly, the product management department is responsible for the definition of new product features. When it comes to technology, the Chief Technology Officer generally owns the responsibility for long term technology advances and product direction, while R&D departments innovate in novel ways to solve problems and implement features. Because the innovation agenda crosses all departments, and impacts every element of the organization, it often falls through the cracks or is assumed to be everyone’s responsibility.

Overcoming this accountability challenge involves creating a sense of urgency, assigning executive level leadership accountably, and assigning a senior project management leader who will work cross functionally to drive the day-to-day agenda with a simple but effective centralized idea disclosure process. This role is not necessarily a full-time position, but time must be dedicated each week to achieve results. Preferably the project manager driving the innovation agenda also has expertise in change management.

With executive level accountability, Innovation becomes an item on the executive team agenda and the status of each idea is managed consciously from inception to commercialization. The innovation process is continuously adapting and improved to maximize efficiency which is proven and measured by meaningful key performance metrics.

With accountability, Innovation becomes a priority and you will finally make innovation a tangible asset for your organization!

Be sure to keep an eye out for my next blog in this series where I discuss the role of culture and the impact of distraction on innovation.

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