Effective Innovation Management? Back to Basics!

For years, management and business schools have vastly exaggerated the importance of tools and theories in delivering innovations to the markets effectively. As common sense indicates, the overwhelmingly important predictor of success for an innovation is not the use of tools, “innovation frameworks”, or handbook of rules, but the quality of leadership of the project and the talent and motivation of the staff carrying it out. In innovation management, we need to go back to basics.

Management must make time to deal with the critical aspects of motivating staff, while developing innovative spirit and entrepreneurial energy, companion piece of innovativeness. In our absurdly shorter mist world, with low esteem for the crucial contribution of activity-creating technical innovations, four of the often overlooked, basic recommendations are:

1. Effectively integrating new hires

Laura, unit manager in the research outfit MatLab, had the habit of organizing a party soon after a new hire had joined her unit. This get-together at the workplace provided an opportunity to introduce the new hire to the community. It also sent a very positive message of welcome, celebrating the new arrival, strengthening the team: parties should be held when people join, more than when they leave the company, Laura thought.

She also had the practice of having new hires spend the first three months on the job sharing her own office. In this way, Laura was readily available for questions and she could gradually inform the new hires and introduce them to people coming to her office.

2. Manager must truly act as coach

As Laura genuinely practices, first-line managers must be a resource, tactfully made available to their staff: discreet when the professionals must concentrate on a crucial piece of work, engaging in positive, supportive dialogue when the person is ready to receive input.

In our extremely turbulent business environment, managers are so busy with operational tasks that they find difficult to find time to nurture a trusting and inspiring relationship with their staff. ‘Being busy’ is a lame excuse for allowing the urgent to take precedence over the important.
Obviously, it all begin with the hiring process: Managers must consciously hire staff better than themselves – how many actually do it? Candidates with an entrepreneurial profile must be attracted to the firm. For this, the firm must not be bureaucratic…

Who make the success of Silicon Valley, California, and Cambridge, UK? Researchers-entrepreneurs! Their drive is not nurtured by traders and bankers, but by their own passion. They constitute a crucial element of our world and deserve much better attention, as they work on the badly needed process of creating jobs for tomorrow.

3. Developing project leaders in an entrepreneurial perspective

A huge bottleneck in technology companies is the insufficient number of high-performance project managers. The problem is compounded by the fact that the innovation process is increasingly carried out in complex, multi-actor projects, “federating” a lot of inputs external to the firm, including from the “gold mines” represented by the knowledge in universities and public laboratories.

4.  The richness of diversity in a team

Our world is indeed increasingly interdependent, but, thankfully, is not homogeneous. The richness of its diversity must be perceived by management as a very positive asset. A powerful way to prepare for this is for managers to master several languages, including ‘dead’ languages, such as Latin and Greek, deemed useless. On the contrary, they open and train the mind in unique ways. Knowing a language goes well beyond conversing in it; it provides considerable enrichment, allowing seeing the world from different points of view.

Partly because of its cosmopolitan perspective, Europe is the region of the world best equipped to brilliantly succeed in the 21rst Century… For effectively leveraging these assets, however, European leaders must show leadership and courage, badly lacking these days.

By Georges Haour

About the author

Georges HaourDr. Georges Haour is Professor of Technology & Innovation Management, at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland. He also acts as an adviser to firms and organizations in his area of value-creation through effective management of the innovation process, as well as commercialization of technology. His latest books are Resolving the Innovation Paradox –Enhancing growth in technology companies (www.innovationparadox.com) and From Science to Business-How firms create value by partnering with universities (www.sciencetobusiness.ch).
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