How to Create a Supportive Environment for Outside Innovation Partnerships

How can organizations derive the greatest value from consulting engagements or other outside partnerships? Here are three strategies that can make a difference whenever external resources are used, such as hiring a consultant or partnering with another firm.

The sponsor must make the client team  feel “safe” prior to enlisting an external resource. If a sponsor enlists a consultant to work with a client team (of which the sponsor is not a member), the consultant’s appearance could easily be interpreted (rightly or wrongly) by client team members as a signal of dissatisfaction with the status quo. Direct, open and honest communication between the sponsor and the client team to cover this subject can clarify intent, and help diffuse tension that could otherwise result in a challenging engagement.

The client team needs to be empowered to pursue new alternatives without incurring excessive personal/project risk. A common engagement outcome is the creation of new alternatives. Some of these options could introduce additional complexity and risk. While the client team ultimately owns the consequences of their decisions, the sponsor needs to be prepared to buy into risky decisions, too.

Ensure the inclusion and involvement of stakeholders in the client group who have sufficient stature to champion worthy recommendations. Internal sponsorship/advocacy is critical to any new initiative’s success. Its absence will invariably doom “orphan” ideas.

You’ve probably noticed that a common theme above is to be sensitive to the human side of engagements, not just the process and problem management elements. It is critical to create an environment that encourages collaboration and sensible decision making.

In closing, the issues I’ve raised here won’t always be easy to manage through, but need to be addressed to help ensure success.

Michael Fruhling is the Founder and CEO of bfs innovations, Inc., which provides technology sourcing and open innovation services to organizations. He has 25 years of new business and new product development experience and success with companies including Procter and Gamble, Bristol Myers Squibb/Drackett and Bath and Body Works.

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