Developing Talent to Drive Innovation

March 2, 2014 By Paul Hobcraft

Although there is a tendency to 'throw' more money at developing talent we need to think through the basics first. If talent does not know the direction or the strategic scope it will have a hard time 'driving innovation'. We need to address the fundamentals first in organizations

I recently participated in a survey for APQC that was looking to identify the hot topics within product development and innovation. One or two hot spots surprised me, others less so.

In the round-up of results almost two-thirds of survey respondents have placed refining the identification of customer needs and remaining competitive in terms of profit at the top of their product development agendas. I like the increasing emphasis on identifying customer needs

Among the potential research areas respondents were asked about, they felt that developing talent to drive innovation was the most important. The second one was around rapid product development: How to Move Products to Market Faster.

The one that really caught my eye was organizations have allocated the most funds to improvement in developing talent to drive innovation. This is heartening but also a worry.

We need to really stop and think about this before spending further funds

I think before we jump into spending more funds on developing talent to drive innovation are our organizations that clear on what they want innovation to achieve? Growth is one but how? What type of innovation is needed, what are the implications? Have we created the right conditions? I could go on but spending to develop your talent to drive innovation you do need a good understanding of the what for and where this needs directing.

A second voice of concern also caught my attention

Also this week a conversation caught my attention that confirms this growing concern I have had that innovation is becoming a major strategic issue. It does seem Strategy and Innovation concerns have converged.

Recently Rita Gunter McGrath a Professor at Columbia Business School and certainly globally recognized expert on strategy in uncertain and volatile environments was discussing the three top hot button concerns at the leadership level of large organizations. She discusses this here with Strategy& (formerly Booz & Co.).

So what are hot button issues keeping our leaders up at night according to Rita McGrath?

The three hot buttons she is constantly hearing across organizations are firstly leaders feel their organizations have not got the right talent or skills in the right place to lead projects.

The second is around the struggle of innovation and growth, and they are simply struggling in how to do innovation. In Rita McGrath’s view the organizations do not have systematic systems in place, when organizations do innovation it tends to be ‘one offs’.

The third and final hot button at present at the strategic level is a lack of line of sight and worrying about what is actually going on. These are leaving leaders not comfortable to make clear, confident decisions.

So are we seeing the effects of how our organizations have been managed over the last few years? Is it all coming home to roost? The leadership may worry over innovation and poor growth but it is in really in their hands to do something about it. Spending funds on developing talent to drive innovation is part of the equation but it is only part.

So how are we going to develop our talent for innovation?

Does the leadership of organizations ever listen or read about innovation in enough detail to understand all the implications, constraints and pieces to put into place? Have they recognized their role within developing innovation as a core discipline within their organizations?

To care about developing a clear, strong innovation set of capabilities you need to observe and reflect on what is causing poor innovation results. A significant portion of the blame is because the leadership, for whatever reason, simply does not get fully involved. They need to determine and build the innovation capabilities into the core of their organizations day-to-day operations. It needs to be recognized as a core competence alongside all others.

How often do we hear about the constant time spent on validating innovation, arguing the innovations corner, the pleading for more resources, the layering on of unnecessary structure, demanding impossible ROI’s and the intense focus on the short-term. Innovation is often just failing to connect into the mainstream of organizations, yet we are told our leaders are worried about growth, not having enough developed talent to manage innovation and the projects yet innovation is in their top priorities.

Yet they worry over ‘line of sight’. Their third hot button

Of course they do, innovation is constantly being driven into the dark corners of the organization, it is being treated as opportunistic, like a light bulb you can turn on or off when it suits the whims and fickleness that our organizations leaders often seeking to respond to a crisis expecting innovation to dig them out of it. Innovation needs to become systematic.

Innovation needs far more serious attention at the top of our organizations, it needs strategic innovation leadership. Until leadership leads by focusing back on the longer-term, innovation is going to deliver continued disappointments. Also leadership in organizations requires stability to sustain and deliver on their initial promise.

Aligning leadership, the strategy needs with innovation activity.

Leadership needs to recognize their role in making innovation a more sustaining discipline. They need to give this a focus where they initiate and provide the essential strategic inputs into a well-designed innovation framework and ensure this is put in place.

To develop the talent to drive innovation you have to put into place all the conditions, structures and guidance this needs. I’ve written consistently about the need for this by suggesting the value of the Executive Innovation Work Mat approach.

Setting the strategic innovation framework through this work mat approach allows for the structure to be put into place that will develop the talent to drive innovation. It provides the conditions and strategic innovation guidance.

Resolution for innovation starts at the top.

If our business leaders want to resolve the present hot buttons of poor growth, sporadic innovation and achieve a clear line of sight as Rita McGrath is suggesting, then I’d suggest you take the time to read what I have written about this, here on this site by entering ‘work mat’ into the search box for starters.

Gaining better understanding of structuring and building innovation capabilities

Building innovation capabilities to drive innovation takes time. I would suggest you find the opportunity to read the ‘White paper’ or the foundation document on this innovation work mat. Also some of the supporting articles over at my Issuu dedicated page here, where you can find different papers that can be visually picked out by the one to six billiard balls to understand the thinking behind this framework further.

Try to answer the seven parts to the innovation leader’s litmus test or exploring the ten great intractables for innovation resolution. Each prompts the thinking. Innovation needs to challenge prevailing organizational thinking. Innovation surprisingly enough does needs to be justified so as to build its sustaining business case . it is through this structuring you gain the serious attention of senior management for them to address the role they play within this innovation framing.

I would argue you need to make the innovation value proposition afresh

Then, and I am being deadly serious here, you need to go and actually sell what systematic innovation really means as a real value proposition to the leadership.

This VP needs to focus on what needs to be done to turn innovation into the engine of growth and through its strategic design, put in place the vehicle to attract and develop this innovation talent. You are tackling the leaderships hot buttons of concern.

Any development of talent needs a well-structured approach but you need to put in place an awful lot to really give the type of returns these ‘driving innovation’ needs. If leaders are worried about poor growth, disappointed with innovation and worry over ‘line of sight’ then innovation capability needs radically redesigning. Much of the present innovation is caught in a legacy trap, this needs overhauling. How will you think about addressing this?

Do you want to really develop the talent to drive innovation? If so then talk to me, I believe I can deliver a clear return on your investment of allocated funds.

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