Managing The Innovators
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Managing The Innovators Managing The Innovators Document Transcript

  • Managing the innovators By Nick Parfitt, Head of Marketing and Communications. Cubiks Innovation is a prime source of sustainable competitive advantage and very often is the single most important factor separating the commercial success stories from the also- rans. Businesses that seek to trade off past reputations and ignore the need for innovation usually find that they are unable keep pace with rapidly changing technological developments and customer requirements. However, companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Easyjet all recognize that in order to develop products and services that offer a quantum leap in value for customers, innovation must be placed at the core of the business. For this reason, business leaders, politicians and academics frequently stress that employers must do all that they can to remove barriers to innovation and stimulate creativity within their organization. Barriers can take the form of internal political wrangling, too much comfort with the existing status quo, inappropriate management measurement systems (you get what you measure!) and insufficient time being allowed for talented people to be creative. Knowing how to tackle such problems can, however, be a real challenge for many businesses. So what can employers do to ensure that innovation becomes ingrained in the organizational DNA? CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR INNOVATION If innovation is to take root, organizations need to stimulate an environment that allows creativity to flourish and then put in place processes to successfully harness the ideas and energy of their employees. The most innovative organisations generally tend to: • Allow a diversity of opinions to exist within their business • Consider the value of ideas that arise outside of their business • Tolerate certain degrees of failure (otherwise staff will stop putting ideas forward) • Incentivise and reward staff for innovation • Encourage knowledge-sharing and put in place systems to capture knowledge • Regularly introduce new talent at senior management levels • Ensure an appropriate mix of management styles • Put in place checks and balances that screen out inappropriate ideas at an early stage before time and financial resource is invested These are all important factors that have to be addressed at an organizational level and then cascaded down throughout an organization by managers who are visibly committed to the nurturing of innovation.
  • At the same time, employers must do all they can to ensure that they effectively channel efforts at an individual, and for this reason, must not overlook the challenges that are inherent in managing innovative people. INNOVATORS CANNOT BECOME MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS In a recent study of over 400 major employers from across Europe, Cubiks discovered that creativity / innovation is the competency that organisations find most difficult to develop in their staff and one of the hardest competencies to assess at selection stage. This scarcity of supply means that genuine innovators are rightly considered to be highly valuable resources. However, dangers can arise if ‘ideas people’ find themselves put on pedestals and treated as heroes. If the innovators are allowed to overshadow those who are responsible for implementing their ideas, it can encourage the more creative staff to display working styles that are both difficult to channel and hugely detrimental to the wider team effort. For example, whilst innovators often have very strong abilities in the area of conceptual thinking, they can also have a strong aversion to the more detailed aspects of product development and project scoping. Such people often wish to be free to generate lots ideas for follow- up by the wider team and prefer to avoid the time-consuming research and analysis that is needed to establish whether a potential product or service is either commercially viable or capable of implementation. Viewers of the celebrity version of The Apprentice that was shown on Red Nose Day earlier this year may recall Piers Morgan and Alistair Campbell openly admitting that whilst they could devise their team’s strategy, they would need other team members to follow closely behind them with notepads and mobile telephones ready to organise the implementation. This is, of course, exactly what happens in business. However, real dangers can arise when those who are required to carry out the more detail-focused evaluation and implementation tasks become disenchanted by the volume of follow-up work required of them. When this happens it is common for such team members to begin looking for reasons to throw-out or undermine potentially lucrative ideas rather than exploring their viability in full. One of the most common reasons why projects fail is because leaders fail to gain the buy-in of team members at the out-set, and there is a lesson here for innovators. If they simply become recognised as generators of work rather than enablers or ‘do-ers’, they will quickly see their efforts thwarted by those around them. It is vital therefore that creative individuals and those responsible for managing them are able to recognise how their behaviour impacts on team dynamics, acknowledge any development needs and find a productive way to bridge the gap between idea generation and idea evaluation/implementation. HOW TO ENCOURAGE AND MANAGE INNOVATION 1) Put in place a rigorous New Product Development (NPD) process – Organisations must devise a product development process which allows the best ideas to be fast-tracked and ‘duds’ to be filtered out before they place a significant drain on resources.
  • 2) Ensure the NPD process is followed – Dominant or charismatic individuals will often try to push through the ideas they are strongly committed to, sometimes creating significant financial risks. Strong management is needed to ensure that such individuals follow the NPD process and are not allowed to set a bad example by bending the rules 3) Assess the personality of team members – When putting together teams or cross-functional working groups that are responsible for innovation, research & development and marketing, organisations should first assess the preferred working styles of different team members to create smarter, more effective teams. By using tools such as personality assessments and team roles questionnaires, team leaders can quickly understand areas of strength, weakness, potential conflict, and then substitute or add resources as required. For example, if it emerges that a team contains a lot of innovators but no organisers, the manager should seek to draft in individuals with a strong organiser profile. 4) Use 360º feedback to help individuals address blind spots - Very often people need to develop new competencies to meet the changing demands of their role or to adapt to a particular business environment. However, it is not always easy for an individual to pinpoint their own strengths, weaknesses and development needs. This may be particularly true of highly talented innovators who do not make the impact they deserve because they fail to gain the support of those around them through their actions. In these situations, 360° feedback processes can make a real difference. By drawing together the views of an individual’s manager, peers and direct reports to produce a combined, objective review of performance, these systems can provide valuable information for personal development planning. 5) Encourage innovators to roll their sleeves up – If innovators demonstrate to other team members that they are prepared to work alongside them on the analysis activities, investigating factors such as whether similar products already exist in the market, likely development costs vs. sales returns, how easy it would be for competitors to copy the product and the costs of marketing the product effectively, they are likely to find that help is much more forthcoming from colleagues. 6) Ensure regular injections of fresh blood – To use a horrible management term, it can become very difficult for well-established, long-serving team members to ‘think outside the box’, particularly if they have been trained to follow a particular company ‘way’. To counter this, new talent must be introduced at regular intervals 7) Consider Expert Forecasting – Sometimes organisations can benefit from asking highly respected industry visionaries for their views on the prospects for a market or product. However, there are obvious risks in trusting the views of just one individual. For example, in 1996 no less a figure than Steve Jobs of Apple commented that ‘the impact of the Internet won’t be that profound’.
  • 8) Consider jury forecasting – An alternative to expert forecasting is jury forecasting, whereby a mix of well-informed individuals from inside and outside a company are convened to discuss options under the guidance of an impartial chairperson. The risks of this approach must also be appreciated. Despite best efforts, there can be a tendency for ‘group-think’ to emerge. When this happens, the most influential or dominant individuals sub-conciously (and sometimes consciously) group together and drown out the voices of talented and insightful dissenters. CONCLUSION Companies that are unable to escape their past or embrace the future will fail. It is therefore imperative the employers create business cultures that allow innovation to thrive. By successfully harnessing the competencies of creative people, employers can achieve long-term competitive advantage. To ensure that that this happens, managers must work hard to ensure that the competencies of talented innovators are channeled for the benefit, and not the detriment, of team dynamics. Case study: Cubiks Cubiks has always been an innovative business but a number of years ago we had to acknowledge that we had a tendency to develop pioneering HR products and service ideas without first establishing whether a market existed for them. To counter this, we implemented a plan to ensure that innovation retained its place at the very heart of our business, but with the support of robust commercial processes. First, the Research & Development function was renamed ‘Innovation, Products and Technology’. This symbolic name change would better communicate the nature of the work carried out by the team of occupational psychologists, HR consultants and IT professionals, and also send an important signal to staff about the value that the company attaches to innovation. Next an international cross-functional ‘Portfolio’ working group was formed. Bringing together representatives from different country teams and corporate headquarters in Guildford, the group has responsibility for evaluating and planning the future development of the Cubiks solutions portfolio. The inclusion of representatives from international offices provides development opportunities for talented people, and has helped to ensure that buy-in is secured for decisions at a country level. Finally, a highly structured and robust new product development process was implemented and communicated to staff, allowing them to understand the steps involved in new product development and how they can play an important role in innovation matters.