Life is full of false peaks. Just as you scale those final few feet, ready to plant your flag at the top of the mountain, you realize there’s another peak ahead. All the work you do merely positions you – gives you the right – to attack the next peak.
We’d been to the mountain, and in some ways the mountain had come to us. Now we were confronted with the actual work – creating and executing a plan that would make Accipiter more innovative. It was at once an overwhelming and exhilarating task. Susan seemed a bit stunned by the meeting, and I was chomping at the bit, ready to go.
All Brockwell wanted at this point was a logical plan, and fortunately I could pull samples of work we’d done and the plans that supported that work off the shelf. I had come somewhat prepared, assuming our next step would be to develop the plan to ask for the necessary resources. Susan and I sat down side by side at the conference table once Brockwell departed. She seemed a bit out to sea.
“I’m not really sure where to start” she said. “There’s so much to do. What should we do first?”
If there’s one thing I think I’m good at, it’s cutting through all the fluff to get to the heart of the issue.
“Look, nothing really matters until we develop a plan and cost that plan out for Brockwell and the executives. We need to focus our attention on developing the plan that outlines how we make Accipiter more innovative, and cost out the effort. That’s all we need to focus on over the next few days. Fortunately I’ve got some plans we’ve used with other clients in similar situations. What we’ll need from you are the internal costs, especially in terms of resources.”
Susan warmed to the task immediately. I’ve found that innovation work can be daunting, especially since there are so many ambiguities and gray areas within the work. Helping a client find the bedrock tasks and focusing them on these familiar actions is the best way to get started.
“OK. What do we need to do to modify these plans?”
“One of the first things we need to do is set up a couple of interviews with Brockwell, Dowdy, and the other business line leaders. If we are going to implement an innovation program, we want to get their input as to the shape, size and scope of the program. Should we be focusing on disruptive innovations or incremental innovations? Should we create external innovation communities or rely on internal insights? Should we innovate existing products or create new products and markets? We need to gain a good understanding from them about how innovation supports their strategies, and how much risk and change they are willing to introduce. In my experience, it may be difficult to get this from them, so we may have to work up a draft outline of the program and have them say grace over it.”
“All right, that makes sense. I think it will be difficult to get a clear picture of the strategies from them, but we can do our best. What else?”
“Once we understand or at least document a strategic scope for the innovation program, we can estimate the size of the team necessary to support our efforts, and begin to define the people we’ll need on a part-time and full-time basis for our project team. That will include you and me, and Brockwell as the executive sponsor, an HR person, a communications person and probably three to five representatives from the various business lines.”
“I’ve already spoken to George about the communications person. It was clear to me that we’d need help active communicating our goals and the intent of the program. After our talk with George and Angus, George asked me to speak with the VP of Internal Communications, and we’ve identified a person in her organization who can assist us with the project.”
“OK, then we need to identify a couple, probably no more than five, people, who can work with us and represent the various insights and interests of the organization from the various business lines or product lines. Best to ask for volunteers.”
“Why volunteers? Why not simply have their managers assign a person?”
“A couple of reasons. First, regardless of the assignment, the folks we get are going to keep their hands in their “day jobs” because this project won’t occupy them forever. They’ll want to keep current in their regular jobs even if their commitment to us is 80-90%. Since they are going to be continuing some involvement in their regular jobs, I want people on the team who are willing to work extra hours because they believe in innovation. It’s tough enough to implement any change, but the kinds of change we’ll create will take real passion. People who get assigned to this will look at it as just another task on their plate. I want more than that – I want the malcontents and true believers. They are the ones who will be here late, and won’t get disappointed or frustrated when we encounter setbacks.”
Susan seemed unsure of my staffing philosophy. “It’s not that I disagree with your approach” she said “but the managers may have a lot of concern about their staff volunteering themselves for extra work. After all, they do have a business to run.”
“Yep, and you’ve pointed out another reason I want volunteers, and we need to reserve the right to accept or reject people from the team. This project is too important to be a dumping ground for people who aren’t cutting it or up to snuff, or who don’t believe in this work. We need, as much as possible” I said this waving my hands, as if speaking to a large group” to make this an elite, conspicuous team. If this becomes just another “flavor of the month” team, everyone will recognize it for what it is and ignore us.”
“With the strategic framework in mind, and the resources identified, I suppose we build a project plan next?”
“Yes, and that will help us arrive at some cost estimates for Brockwell.”
“We’ve got until Friday. Let’s get to work.”
From altitude to bedrock in just over an hour. Now it was time to start climbing the next mountain.
By Jeffrey Phillips