The secret behind successful innovation managers

5 insights from top innovation managers on how you can elevate your innovation efforts to the next level

July 17th, 2020

Over the past few months, we have conducted a series of interviews with some of the most successful innovation managers we collaborate with. The goal was to uncover who they are, how they work and what makes them successful. It was a true pleasure to talk with them about their challenges, recipes for success and overall thoughts on innovation.

Their background is as diverse as their ways of working with innovation, but they are all triggered by a true interest and inner motivation for changing the status quo. Looking back at the learnings from the interviews, one thing has become apparent: Innovation is an outlier in the daily operations of big corporations. Therefore, success in innovation doesn't come overnight but requires passion and persistence and must be continuously fought for.

We have gathered 5 insights from our interviews that we want to share with you. Hopefully, they will help you elevate your innovation efforts to the next level.



1. Pushing for a strategic link

Most top managers today can agree that innovation is necessary in a strategic context. It is not uncommon to have a growth strategy that includes a new business area or new opportunities. However, without a filled idea pipeline or specific new product/solution it is unrealistic to execute on the strategic intent. Moreover, top-management sometimes faces the issue that although they feel they have communicated the new strategy accordingly, it doesn’t trickle down in the remaining organisation.  

For you as an innovation manager it is, therefore, crucial to link your innovation efforts to the overall strategy. When starting a new initiative ask yourself the question: “which kind of innovation is needed, what is the goal of it and how does it support achieving the strategic intent?”. The reasons are two-folded. First, through your innovation initiatives you can support top management in communicating the strategy in the organisation. Second, by filling up the pipeline with new ideas and projects you contribute in executing the strategy. 

By pushing for a strategic link you solidify your position in the organisation as well as “claim” more budget for activities that go beyond just the actual innovation team.


2. Tireless stakeholder management

In order to be successful as an innovation manager you must create value for the business. Of course to do so, one is dependent on input, time, budget and help from others. This means that managing your relevant stakeholders is an absolutely crucial task. It will not only support you in carrying out your projects successfully but also ensure your future relevance in the organisation.

One of the most critical stakeholders are business owners. After all, successful innovation projects require an owner with a critical and urgent business problem to solve. Therefore, you need to establish close contact and relationships with them. Understand how emerging trends will affect them, identify relevant opportunity spaces and help them solve critical and urgent business problems in the short term as well as provide a pipeline filled with validated and credible ideas in the long term. 


3. Ongoing communication

Although, over the last decades innovation has become more established in organisations, it is not yet an integral part of regular business operations - and maybe it should never be. This means as innovation managers you have to constantly fight to validate your own existence. You need to show and convince the organisation that innovation is important and creates value. Running a successful project (e.g idea campaign) is key, but to make sure the projects and budget keeps coming, ongoing communications is necessary. This includes showing and speaking about your results and the ideas you have “killed” as well as promoting how your service offerings can support the organisation. However, as innovation is a team effort don't forget to also let other people shine. 

The task of communication is both an upward and outward task: upward to make sure management is updated and keeps you on the radar, and outward to make sure the rest of the organisation is aware of your existence, can see the impact you are creating and know how they can get involved.


4. Continuous promotion of tools and methodologies

Innovation managers are often pioneers in the organisation, introducing new ways of working, tools and methodologies. Being at the forefront is hard and you will most likely face resistance, sometimes even ridicule. New methods might easily get discarded and doubted and people tend to “fall back to the old ways”. Therefore, you must be extraordinarily persistent when it comes to pushing them through. But as with many other things, if you do it enough times, you will eventually see the effects. Our clients are successful because they have insisted on trying out new ways of working. And if they fail, they revert, change if needed, and try again.


5. Insisting on timelines and budgets

In most organisations the existing operations are of highest priority. There is always an important deadline, urgent manners or critical projects that must come first. This means that innovation is constantly at the risk of being pushed down on the agenda. What our clients have succeeded in, is making sure that this does not happen. Regardless of other important deadlines, they make sure the innovation projects are kept on time and that budget is reserved. If you want to maintain your status as strategically important, it is critical to uphold the seriousness and urgency of innovation projects. This means you need to continuously fight for budget and resources, also in dire times. 


We have highlighted some insights and activities that help our clients to be successful, some of which might not be the most obvious. Of course, these are by no means the only activities that are at the core of their job; actual work on innovation projects, running idea campaigns, delivering incubation projects, facilitating workshops, coaching teams, preparing pitches. This is where the true value of innovation manager’s work lies and where our clients excel in creating impact for their companies.


If you want to know more about our learnings and how to get started, Thilde and Morten are happy to talk to you. 

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