What roles do we need to drive corporate innovation?
In most organizations, innovation as a program starts from the top. We need somebody in the board of directors to recognize that innovation ‘new style’ has to be done in order for the enterprise to keep thriving. This leader (the executive sponsor) needs to put it on the agenda and get support from his peers to drive innovation. The executive sponsor then drives it to the next level, identifying leaders who can start innovation experiments in their business units or departments. At a lower level, we need intrapreneurs, ready to deep dive into executing an idea ‘startup style’.
At Ekipa we believe there are 3 distinct levels and leadership styles (based on ‘nimble leadership’):
The architectural leaders are as high up as possible, ideally somebody on the board of directors. They think about innovation and entrepreneurship from a visionary and strategic point of view. In the early stages of the innovation efforts, they help the lower levels to remove the organizational hurdles and impediments. They try to ‘cut corners’ to prove that the innovation efforts can yield results. The cutting of corners is needed because any enterprise will inevitably have structures and regulations that stifle any innovation initiative.
At later stages, once the initial proof that the innovation structure can bring positive outcomes (improvements to existing business or new product, services or businesses), the architectural leaders re-invent the organization. They work on all the building blocks to make innovation at scale possible. They evangelize the new culture of entrepreneurship and try to embed it into the enterprise DNA.
The middle level, the enabling leaders are mentors and coaches to the innovation teams. They ensure that there are resources: access to tools, frameworks, infrastructure, money, people. They also make sure there is enough education and mentoring to support the people in the innovation teams. Together with the architectural leaders, they find out what works and what does not work. At that level, they are the ones iteratively finding out the ‘innovation framework’ for the enterprise. Together with the entrepreneurial leaders, who execute the innovations, they create the right outcomes and eventually profits.
The entrepreneurial leaders are the innovators. They are the entrepreneurs who come up with the right ideas and put that into action. They play the role of CEO or CTO for the new product or service. In that role, they also make sure they get the right people on their team. They make all the operational decisions, whom to hire, what to build, what clients to attract. These are the people who are scarce, especially in the early stages of an innovation program.
Most entrepreneurial people leave big companies to start their own ventures. The goal of all three levels together is to create the right environment, resources, culture to keep the entrepreneurial talent on board and launch successful innovation across the enterprise at all levels.
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