idea Light bulb icon on wall texture background design

Leaders – think for a moment about the results you are achieving from your innovation program. Are you accomplishing what you expected?

When innovation programs fail to achieve their desired results, leaders and teams often point their fingers at the obvious reasons – lack of talent, misaligned incentives, and maybe an over or under dependence on process. While these are all very real, and have the potential to derail the best laid innovation plans, leaders should first look to themselves and their commitment to innovation.

Innovation is impossible to achieve without leadership commitment. Commitment (per Webster) is “a promise to do or give something; a promise to be loyal to something or someone; the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something.” In the case of innovation all three of these apply.

If you are accomplishing what you expected out of your innovation programs, great! You are in the minority. For the other 80% of you, the following four questions will help you to gauge whether your actions truly demonstrate your level of commitment.

Are your innovation expectations clear?

Don’t assume that your team knows what you mean by innovation. Is your innovation goal to incrementally make your existing products and services better? Or, are you looking for ideas that will change your industry, challenge your competitors and disrupt the status quo? Setting direction on the desired level of innovation is critical to achieving the right results.

Do your teams have the margin in their schedules to be creative?

The environment in most corporate offices is far from ideal for encouraging innovation. Teams need room to think, explore, and, quite honestly – to be bored. If your team spends their time sprinting from meeting to meeting and reactively fighting fires it is unlikely that they have time or headspace to dream of and pursue innovative ideas.

Are the right resources dedicated to pursing ideas?

Successful innovation requires a resource commitment – of people, money, time and possibly even equipment – over an extended period of time.

People – have you committed your best and brightest to innovation? Or are they working on solving immediate problems and/or projects tied to quarterly objectives? Are you quick to pull resources off of innovation to focus on other, more urgent priorities?

MoneyAre you investing in the ideas that are generated? Or, are innovation programs the first thing you cut when faced with budget challenges?  Cutting innovation budgets and an unwillingness to invest in promising ideas is a quick way to reduce the flow of ideas to a trickle.

Time – does your team have dedicated time each week to develop and pursue ideas? Before you say yes, think about whether this time is within the standard working week, or whether the unspoken expectation is that this time is spent once work on all other operational priorities are complete.

Equipment – access to enterprise equipment is a key part of pursuing technology innovation. Does your team have access to specialized equipment and servers? Your team can only get so far without access to enterprise resources. Consider having dedicated equipment or an innovation lab that provides access to necessary resources when the inspiration strikes.

Is innovation prioritized as high as, or higher than other internal priorities?

Most companies have a process for reviewing progress on company initiatives. Is innovation progress reviewed as part of this process? Does the assigned priority reflect the true importance? Are “next actions” defined and reviewed like any other project in your portfolio? It is critical that innovation projects are tracked, measured and managed like any other project.

So, how did you do? Were you able to honestly say that your actions in each of the four areas demonstrate your level of commitment? If so, it likely shows in your innovation results.

If most of your answers were no – or if your results were inconclusive – here’s what I would recommend:

  • Stop what you are doing. Seriously. Take a deep breath and prepare to think differently about the way you are approaching innovation.
  • Open your calendar. Cancel five non-critical meetings and pull your top three big thinkers together for some brainstorming.
  • Start by stating the problem – your innovation program is underperforming. Define your expectations and clearly state why innovation is critical to the continued success of your business. Map out the bold actions that you are going to take to demonstrate your commitment.
  • Make a promise to hold one another accountable to staying firm on this commitment, even when other priorities seem more urgent.
  • Discuss how you will know that you are headed in the right direction. Do you have a healthy pipeline of fresh ideas? Are you pursuing the best of these ideas and sharing both successes and failures with your organization? Are you monitoring your resource commitment and ensuring that the right resources are committed, even during periods with many other competing priorities?
  • Schedule a time to check back in on your results, allowing some time for change – ideally three to six months. If you have successfully executed your plan, and have held strong to your commitment, prepare to celebrate your success.

I’m interested to hear how you (or your leaders) demonstrate your commitment to innovation. Share your thoughts in the comments!