Innovation Management Strategies and Best Practices

Learn about the concept of innovation management and master the process with the help of best practices

As you start (or grow) your innovation management program, you’ll no doubt be aware that it’s not a straightforward journey, and there are many boxes to tick before convincing your stakeholders of the need to innovate and creating impact. 

Unfortunately, there’s no one golden rule for success here. Every company is different, with its specific goals, culture, and dynamics all impacting its route to victory. Having worked in the field of innovation management for nearly a decade, I've noticed that although there are vast differences between companies, the most successful online innovation management programs all share common themes. I’ve compiled those themes to create this ultimate guide to innovation management as a collection of strategies, processes, and best practices.

I’ll cover everything from beginners’ mistakes (so that you don't make the same ones!) to success stories of programs creating hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue. I’ll also share in-depth advice on the core elements of your program as well as simple tips and tricks you can start using today. 

Whether you’re an expert in the latest innovation management trends or just starting your first program, I hope you’ll benefit from this guide.


What is Innovation Management?

Let’s begin with the foundations of innovation management, what it is, and where to start.

Innovation management is the end-to-end process of driving inspiration and ideas from a relevant community all the way through to concept development and value creation. The result can be new products and services (or enhancements to existing ones), process improvements, or cultural change within an organization or ecosystem.

Successfully harnessing innovation requires a cohesive and structured strategy, direction, and focus that brings people, processes, and technology together to facilitate idea generation at the front end and execute value creation at the back end.

Innovation management Ebook


What Does the Innovation Management Process Look Like? 

1. Align your company strategy and innovation goals 

Starting a process without providing clear direction is like trying to cross the ocean without a compass. Of course, one such unguided effort discovered America, but most compass-less attempts ended shipwrecked on the rocks. Your company won't benefit from unaligned innovation management. No matter how fantastic the idea is, if it doesn't align with the business strategy, there won't be enough cultural readiness to realize it.

In my previous life as an innovation program manager at a large international cable service provider, we once received a fully elaborated concept to improve customers' mobile internet reception by adding antenna functionality to outdoor jackets. Although there was a customer need, and the idea was technically feasible, the implementation wasn't approved because entering the fashion market was too far from where the company was heading.

This example highlights that you need to inform your idea-generating crowd about the kind of input you're looking for. Otherwise, they'll spend (or waste) their time on ideas that won't make the cut. Your idea-generators and innovators need a clearly defined framework to understand the company's (desired) direction. 

Formulate a definition of what “innovation” means in your company and set an innovation strategy aligned with your company’s vision. Based on this overall strategy, you can define strategic innovation areas. Describe these areas in a simple-to-understand way and engage as many people as possible.

Simplifying the description of your innovation strategy has a surprising side effect: improved strategic awareness! People seem more excited about innovation than strategy formulations (if shared at all), so the early successes of a just-started innovation program often include getting your employees on board.

Pro tip: Align your innovation approach with the culture too

The topics and goals you prioritize on will depend to a large extent on what you'd like to do as an innovation team and your employees’ level of online innovation experience.

You’ll see different behavior from different sets of people, depending, for example on geographical regions, skill sets, and demographics. Some people flourish under direct orders, while others thrive more independently. You may want to rephrase your requests depending on your audience.

This also applies the other way around: You should align your company’s employee targets with your (new) innovation goals. Objectives related to innovation are usually not explicitly defined, but the organization expects (or hopes) its employees will think outside the box and offer ideas that change the organization for the better. These collaborative and creative behaviors are often not rewarded because they're hard to see. However, it makes sense to review your employees’ targets because, as Steven Kerr puts it in his highly regarded 1995 article, On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B, "for an organization to act upon its members, the formal reward system should positively reinforce desired behavior, not constitute an obstacle to overcome" (PDF).

If your company pays bonuses based on current product performance, you’ll have a hard time convincing stakeholders to adopt a new product idea that might even cannibalize the current one. The better a company aligns its employees’ targets to its innovation goals, the more comfortable people will feel in changing course.

2. Launch targeted idea campaigns

"I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out." – Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon

When I was new to innovation management, my first attempt to collect ideas from employees was via an online suggestion scheme. It was like that wooden box you often see hanging around in the company lunchroom, where employees can deposit their ideas. Though the goal of the suggestion box is to gather smart improvement ideas, they mainly gather dust. This was also the case with my online version.

Colleagues were submitting ideas, but they couldn't track their progress. And because our instructions were not much more than "give us your ideas," employees didn't always seem to understand what kind of ideas the company was looking for. And I had a tough time convincing the business to spend time on maturing and implementing the little gems that we did receive on occasion. It was clear we had to change our strategy, so we decided to take a targeted campaign approach.

If your strategic innovation areas describe what kind of idea categories your company is looking for, a targeted campaign is the vehicle to find answers. It's a bit like a fishing trip. When you're planning your trip, the type of fish you want to catch will be the deciding factor. It will decide your fishing spot, whether you need a boat, what buddies to take, and, of course, what fishing rods to use.

Similarly, targeted campaigns call for ideas that answer a specific need. Through these campaigns, you provide insightful background information to guide the crowd. You can't expect them to think outside the box if they don't know what the box is. And there’s always a box, but often it’s bigger and shaped differently than we might imagine. However, there’s always a limit on the budget for, or what a sponsor has an appetite for, so this constraint should be shared.

The playing field isn’t empty when you start a campaign. You already have a base of customers, and then there may be relevant projects that people need to be aware of. And what are the rules of the game? Is there a specific timeframe or budget for the implementation of the ideas?

By providing this framework, you might exclude some ideas, but only those ideas that, by definition, you’re not looking for. And you'll see ample ideas coming in that are of much better quality when collected through targeted campaigns. This targeted approach allows you to exclude ideas you won't be able to process, which has a significant, positive influence on the success of your program!

innovation management with targeted idea campaigns

Pro tip: Use campaigns to address different topics and for different goals

Long-term engagement comes from relevant, as well as varied, campaign topics over time. Solicit ideas for both internal- and external-facing topics, and for current as well as new products and services. People are intrinsically motivated by different things, and by changing the campaign topics, you'll involve a bigger crowd over time. Besides creative or problem-solving campaigns, you should also run discovery, testing, and feedback campaigns to engage your crowd during other phases of innovation.

Whatever you do, make it specific and realistic. Ask for the incremental ideas hiding in your management team's blind spots. Management will be surprised they didn't think of it themselves and will ask why the company isn't already doing it that way.

Identifying simple solutions that have a big effect, together with the relatively simple, cheap, and short implementation of those ideas, will allow you to prove the value your program creates for your company.

Similarly, when you're looking for more radical ideas, ask down-to-earth questions. I've seen companies ask for Utopian end states, which are just too hard to imagine from a status quo situation. Break it up in pieces, visualize a position from where the crowd can start their creative journey, and – especially here – involve your people in feedback or testing instead of just idea generation. Try to make things as simple and straightforward as possible, and campaigns will take the fuzz out of the front end of innovation.

what is innovation management

3. Build a transparent process and reporting structure 

While building your innovation management program, you'll need to overcome skepticism. Innovators may experience the process as vague or fuzzy, and others may think it's all just a waste of time that can never result in actual benefits.  You'll need to show the complete process and report on key performance indicators (KPIs) to build trust, grow sustainable sponsorship, and engage your audience

To generate faith and show that submitting an idea isn't just a waste of time, make sure innovators understand the full process before submitting their ideas. Explain the timelines and tell your audience about the experts you have available to grow and evaluate their ideas. And when you've chosen the top ideas for implementation, make sure there's a transparent transition of ownership. The person who came up with the idea isn't always the best one to take the idea forward and implement it; be aware of this and have experts available who, when adequately showcased upfront, will create the confidence that an idea will be implemented.

Rigorously report on outcome KPIs, including actioned ideas, revenue potential, realized revenue, and savings. Without demonstrating the value added, the program will die over time. Initially, you may be able to please management with participation and submission numbers, but we all know that an idea on its own is nothing; it's the execution that brings value.

Therefore, run “low-hanging fruit” campaigns early on (cost savings, process improvements, or other tactical topics that are of significant interest to your senior management). Proposals coming from these campaigns tend to have shorter implementation cycles than those from more radical campaigns, which will then allow you to show real value sooner. And presenting actual results will further promote the use of campaigns to solve challenges. 

But what KPIs should you report on?

Many companies measure their innovation activities with traditional metrics, like return on investment (ROI), to decide which ideas to take forward based on business cases. Although this may work for ongoing operations and continuous improvements, it's often counterproductive for (radical) innovation as this comes with a lot of uncertainties that negatively impact the validity of your calculations.

The must-read book "The Corporate Startup," by Tendayi Viki et al., describes three types of KPIs: (1) Reporting, (2) Governance, and (3) Global. These KPIs can all be divided into "Activity metrics" (like the number of ideas, Most Valuable Player (MVP), coaches, events, etc.) and "Impact metrics" (like the number of assumptions identified, business models validated, patents granted, etc.). 

Particularly at the beginning of your innovation program, when you don't have (many) ideas in your pipeline, you’re likely to be reporting on the percentage of employees engaged, the number of campaigns run, and ideas generated, but you can only get away with that for so long. Eventually, you'll be required to deliver insights into how ideas are progressing through your funnel and how this is impacting the bottom line. But don’t let this become your program’s single assessment criteria; I've seen small innovation teams being held responsible for the "executing" back end and "realized ROI" while they only had influence over the "searching" front end of innovation.

4. Continuously communicate your campaign

"Communicate, communicate, communicate" has always been one of my top five pieces of advice for collaborative innovation managers. Work-related to innovation management programs is often added to employees’ already very full-time jobs, and although your innovation program might be all you can think about, it's not top-of-mind for everyone.

Your audience will forget about you and your program if you stop communicating, which is why it's crucial that you have an innovative communications plan that includes the following:

Shout out loud

Your entire potential crowd needs to be aware of your innovation program. You want them to be aware so they can participate, of course, but awareness is also essential to preventing similar initiatives from popping up elsewhere in the organization, which could later cause issues with best-practice sharing or implementation scaling. Create your own internal branding and tone of voice that deliberately differentiates you from your standard corporate communications. You're doing something unusual here by asking for new ideas and operating in the "fuzzy" front end of innovation. Be proud to be different and act like it!

And make sure everybody is aware. Run "above-the-line"/mass media promotional activities like posters, videos, intranet messaging, etc., to explain how the program links to the company strategy, what is going to happen, and what you expect from your crowd.

David Willets, Head of Innovation at Baxi Heating, took this advice seriously and shared his story with me.

"When we relaunched Baxi’s idea and innovation management program, we inherited a boring orange lightbulb as our logo, and this had become our identity. It looked like someone had typed 'innovation' into a clip art search box from the '80s. Considering we wanted to do things differently and encourage others to do the same, this logo wasn't going to cut it.

We had a small team of volunteers, mostly entry-level staff from the call center, and I was talking about how I wanted to infect everyone at Baxi with an innovation virus bit by bit and see it spread through the company. I told them we should hack into Baxi and show how cool it would be to start doing things differently. Meanwhile, one of the guys was scribbling on his note pad; he'd drawn the Baxi logo and started scribbling all over the X. He was like 'let's just get some orange spray cans and graffiti all over the X, and then we'll show we've taken over and Baxi's been hacked.'

Everyone loved it, and after we'd calmed down, we decided that the X would be our thing and represent doing things differently at Baxi. With anything new, you have to get people to take notice, and if you're saying you want people to do things differently, you have to live by that and show them that you are prepared!"


Review ideas and give feedback

A surefire way to kill your innovation program is by not responding to ideas. People who submit an idea but then never hear back will turn into skeptics and eventually stop participating altogether. It's critical that you thank them for their ideas and ask them to elaborate where necessary, and then provide feedback on that again. Yes, this is a cumbersome task, so make sure you involve a broader team for this. And if you do it right, it's amazing to see your crowd collaborate and turn those initial hunches into fully-fledged solutions!

Sarah Kelly, Innovation Program Manager at Liberty Global, says:

“For targeted campaigns, we try to get initial feedback within 24 hours of the idea being submitted. That doesn’t mean they get a yes or no answer; it means we thank them for their idea and either let them know which SMEs (subject-matter experts) we are sharing it with, or try to draw out further information from them, essentially growing the idea.”


Promote collaboration

The primary objective of your innovation communications plan is to engage your crowd. Deliberately explain what kind of behavior you'd like to see from them. It's not just about submitting ideas but also about commenting on others' ideas or providing feedback on proposed plans. Involve more and more people in the discussion by sharing ideas and asking for their feedback.

Promote collaboration instead of competition. Competition may increase the number of idea submissions but will negatively impact collaboration and thus idea growth. James Rose, Vice President of Innovation at Technicolor, shared his experience of a competitive versus collaborative approach:

“When we were using a platform that was competition-centric, we saw undesired behavior. People would – for instance – prefer to vote for their friends, bosses, and country mates instead of the best input. We also saw less meaningful discussions and less collaboration. We received feedback from some of the people high up in the competition rankings that they thought twice before commenting or elaborating on someone else’s idea because they wanted to win. After we switched to a more collaborative platform, we saw a significant increase in collaboration.”

And, even though you're aiming for online collaboration, don't forget about being present offline as well. Create trust by showing that there are humans behind this online platform. Decorate your offices with triggering posters or stickers, or kick off your new campaign with an offline ideation session. 

Report to C-level

You want senior management sponsorship. You need it to show employees it's okay to spend time on the program, to promote engagement among middle management, to provide budget, and so on. Report on innovation metrics (which I'll discuss later in this article) and make sure you communicate the value that is of specific importance to these "C-levels." Continuously inform and educate them, and over time, you'll create strong supporters – especially if you can wow them now and then.

Share progress

Innovation is exciting – especially at the creative, divergent, "nothing-is-bad" start, and, of course, at the end when launching your new-to-market product or service. In between, however, it can become quite a tedious process, continuously investigating whether your new idea makes sense.

Build, measure, learn sounds very simple and straightforward, but after your umpteenth iteration, you (and your management, even more so) might just want to move on to the next phase. But keep communicating about your progress. If implementations are stalling, you might be able to celebrate that new employee groups have been engaged, top innovators recognized, or innovation methods utilized in your process. Keep communicating because as soon as you stop, business-as-usual will absorb all the attention. 

innovation management and how to manage it

5. Align your evaluation process with your campaign goals and approach 

The evaluation stage can be a massive pain for evaluators when not well prepared. And, if you didn't set the right criteria to evaluate against, you won't end up with the proper selection of ideas to solve your campaign challenge. These pointers should help to smooth your evaluation process.

Plan upfront

While shaping your campaign's focus, make sure you carefully plan the meeting where the sponsor will choose from the top ideas and decide on next steps. Who needs to attend, how many ideas can be discussed, what's the expected quality level of ideas and preferred pitching method? Once all this is clear, you can work backward and design your evaluation process. Based on the estimated number of idea submissions, you can decide what evaluation methods to use, who should be involved, and schedule the meeting in their calendars. 

Go from many to few

If you invite all your employees to participate in an idea generation campaign, don’t be surprised to receive hundreds of submissions. And that's a good thing; as Linus Pauling, renowned chemist and the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes, said, “The best way to have good ideas is to have a lot of ideas.” But after this divergent thinking, you’ll need to bring this down to a manageable set of ideas and focus on the most promising ones.

Use community signals

For big numbers of ideas, you can use “community graduation,” which allows your crowd to make an initial selection based on the number of visitors, votes, comments, and so on. Of course, your crowd needs to be sufficiently knowledgeable and unbiased about the topic.

Run a triage evaluation

You could also carry out your initial screen by running a triage evaluation, where you ask your evaluator group just one simple question: "Would you like to take this idea forward?" One caveat: If only a small majority vote in favor, I'd recommend further assessment before making a final decision.

Make things clear

Because community graduation and triages don’t provide you with qualitative feedback, when you’re dealing with large numbers of ideas, you’ll need to highlight to your crowd that not all submitted ideas will receive elaborate feedback. 

Use scorecards

Once you've narrowed the ideas down to a more manageable number, run a more qualitative evaluation session by using scorecards. Create bubble charts or radar chart visualizations to support the decision-making by the campaign sponsor. Invite all decision makers to participate and use methods like dot stickering to vote for the best ideas or bring innovators and decision makers together in a "Dragons' Den" or "Shark Tank" setting.

Use the right metrics

The later in your evaluation process, the more specific your metrics can and should become. In the early evaluation rounds, you'll simply have too many ideas to dive into depth, but later, you need to get a more detailed understanding of the evaluators' opinions to elaborate on the most important elements of the ideas and make the right decisions. As coined by global design and innovation company IDEO, the innovation "sweet spot" is when an idea is "desirable, feasible, and viable”.

As well as these general assessment criteria, you should align your evaluation metrics to your campaign topic and question. You need to assess the technical feasibility of the ideas relate to new development, and when innovating an internal process, you'll need to assess the desirability of the ideas for internal end users instead of your customers. And, of course, it’s important to align your evaluation with your innovation goals too; it goes without saying that your evaluation can be much more specific for incremental innovations than radical ones.

6. Recognize everyone who adds value to your program 

Recognition is a very important element in your innovation management program. You’re asking people to do something in addition to their regular jobs, to share their thoughts about another department’s challenges, and to use (innovation) methods that unlikely to be completely familiar with. Entice your employees to participate by showing upfront what’s in it for them. Carefully consider what behaviors you’d like to see and recognize and reward them. When you recognize people for the number of ideas they submit, you’ll receive a lot of ideas but not necessarily high-quality ones. This approach also fails to push online collaboration to improve the submissions. A better method is to recognize the number of (constructive) comments and ideas selected for implementation.

Although some company cultures seem to prefer monetary awards, I recommend using non-monetary rewards to recognize your top campaign participants. The study "Effects of Externally Mediated Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1971) details a number of experiments examining how external rewards influence people’s intrinsic motivation to perform an activity:

"The results indicate that (a) when money was used as an external reward, intrinsic motivation tended to decrease, whereas (b) when verbal reinforcement and positive feedback were used, intrinsic motivation tended to increase."

In his book "Drive" (2009), author Daniel Pink combined these findings with a number of related studies and concluded that monetary awards actually harm tasks that require conceptual, creative thinking. He also found that autonomy and purpose lead to better performance and personal satisfaction.

Based on the above and my insights from various collaborative innovation programs, I advise mainly using events to recognize your program’s top participants. Have senior management publicly hand out certificates or awards and make sure everyone in the organization is aware. Offer participants the opportunity to be involved in the next steps to realize the idea or allow them to pitch their own idea directly to senior management. Innovators seem to appreciate having the opportunity to protect their idea from changing over time, and it will give them new experiences and skills, as per Daniel Pink's finding about the importance of mastery.

How to Improve Your Innovation Management Program

Seed your campaigns to enhance engagement and quality

A key issue in innovation, and why we see it often fail, is that prior conditioning can prevent your audience from engaging and sharing ideas. Seeding is an excellent solution for overcoming this problem.

What exactly is seeding? 

Seeding is the act of inspiring your crowd at the start of your innovation project in order to improve their submissions. Your seeding efforts will need to be aligned with the goal and ambitions of your campaign. For example, if you're looking for incremental cost savings or process improvements, your campaign seeding should set the tone by highlighting success and failure stories of earlier attempts inside or outside your company.

As Tim Woods, innovation management expert and former HYPE marketing director puts it:

"If you want others to come up with something truly new, then your seed ideas should be unusual, radical, and different." 

Spending some time upfront to provide this inspirational content makes intuitive sense. In his book "The Four Lenses of Innovation," Rowan Gibson, one of the world's foremost thought leaders on business innovation, points out that:

"Breakthrough thinking is usually built on an illuminating insight (or series of insights) into a situation or a problem that inspires an unexpected leap (or leaps) of association in the mind, resulting in a completely novel configuration of previously existing ideas."

Lead innovators, trend scouts, or subject matter experts (internal or external) should provide seed content before opening your targeted campaign to your audience. Submit seed ideas on your online innovation management platform, and/or invite speakers to raise awareness about your campaign. For instance, in an efficiency campaign, encourage a process owner to explain where delays arise; in a feedback campaign, ask a product manager to showcase new product concepts; or ask a startup or trend scouting agency to excite your crowd to come up with the more radical ideas. 

Enforce a time limit to stimulate creativity and get answers when you need them

Setting a time limit for idea submissions is also important. The solution you’re seeking ideas to uncover is likely to be required within a specific timeframe, and a time limit will enable you to plan a timetable for follow-up activities and implementation. A time limit for submitting ideas will also stimulate the crowd because many people are deadline-driven. And being able to communicate your results within a certain time will spur engagement in your subsequent campaigns.

During conversations I’ve had with advertising professional and creative inspirer Joop de Boers, Joop highlighted that time limits can drive creativity:

"It's very human that people postpone tasks to the latest moment. But the result of this is that such tasks stay in your consciousness where they get disturbed by other (more urgent) duties. Better is to write yourself a brief assignment, read it carefully, and then forget about it. This assignment then moves to your upper subconscious, and a solution will pop up at the most unexpected moments and situations. Unconsciously you work on a solution that always comes in time. And when the deadline is further away, that solution will just arrive later."

Create collaboration between highly diverse audiences

The best ideas come from collaboration between people from vastly different places in an organization as well as people within the organization. For example, frontline staff can give you insights you typically wouldn't get from your sales force. When thinking about engagement, make your audiences even more diverse than you initially planned. The whole point of having an online innovation program is that you remove the boundaries of your physical space (and the usual crowd in that space) and reach the entire organization.

Educate your crowd

Educating your crowd on innovation processes and theories will create a climate where people share, discuss, and improve ideas. Over time, consider more in-depth training for your employees, on theories like Design Thinking or Lean Startup (for instance, via Adobe Kickbox"-based workshops) to improve the quality of submitted ideas.

Amazon EU Program Manager Elaine Bromell, who was my innovation management counterpart at Virgin Media Ireland when we ran a Lean Startup-based idea development workshop there (see video), says:

“Even though we initially just took under 10% of employees through the training, we saw increased awareness and enthusiasm among almost all employees as well as a significant increase in idea quality.”


Roles and Responsibilities in Innovation Management

Advocates for your innovation management program

The concept of an advocate is simple. As defined in the Oxford Dictionary, an advocate is "a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy." And this is precisely what you need to take your innovation management program to the next level.

Simply sending emails and putting up posters won't create real excitement. In fact, it will result in limited participation. Innovation advocates are intrinsically enthusiastic about your program in general or your specific targeted campaign. They can help promote your efforts and/or be the first point of contact when participants have questions. 

When I oversaw a global innovation management program reaching more than 40,000 employees in over 15 countries, we had country teams in place for local campaigns as well as to promote the international ones – in the local language and relating to local culture and regional programs. As well as these officially assigned teams, we had a volunteer advocate community in place (The Wildfire Club) that received additional program information and early invites to campaigns to spread the word (like wildfire!). These volunteers didn’t have any official tasks as these were the remit of the assigned country teams.  Besides their “advertising” role, meeting up with the volunteers periodically gave me invaluable feedback.

Another example of advocates in innovation programs comes from aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The Airbus innovation team built an impressive community of advocates to help manage, grow, and realize ideas. The role of this network of more than 150 "catalysts" (as they like to call them) is to foster, focus, and accelerate innovation within specific designated areas as well as more globally through Airbus via the advocate network.

The Airbus advocate network is managed by a central “Corporate Innovation” function, which is overseen by one full-time employee. The Corporate Innovation group helps keep the network active by connecting members via an online community, organizing in-person events to share knowledge, and inviting members to webinars and training sessions to learn about innovation methods, tools, and processes.

Konstantin Heckmann, Strategic Innovation Manager & Chief Architect, Airbus IdeaSpace at Airbus Group, told me that the advocate network has had a significant impact on the success of projects and the transformation of the company.

Make sure your advocates are fully aware of upcoming campaigns and provide them with the necessary information and materials to use in their activities. Besides these promotional pursuits, advocates – and especially those that are also subject-matter experts – can play a role in maturing the selected ideas. Innovation management consultant Eugene Ivanov points out that companies should strive to create a pool of ad-hoc innovation experts. These knowledgeable go-to experts can validate the need and sanity check the feasibility to improve the quality of submitted ideas.

I would advise having an advocate in each department in each location to improve engagement and the quality of ideas throughout your organization rather than just where your assigned innovation managers sit. Create a matrix with all departments, teams, and locations, and identify available advocates per intersection or "cell." Based on the data from your innovation management system, also classify the engagement levels per cell and see if improvements can be made by adding advocates or further supporting them. You won't have (or need) an advocate per cell from the start, but this matrix will help clarify the reality in the ground and help you work toward your desired “advocate occupancy.”

In most cases, these advocates are volunteers, so search for intrinsically motivated people who are genuinely interested in collaborative innovation and who don't need expensive perks to thrive.

Search for articulate, lively personalities who are known by the people around them, and who know the organization, its people, and its projects well in order to make the connections that are so important in making innovation happen. And keep them enthusiastic – even more so than your general crowd. Make it a fresh and exclusive club that people want to belong to, and your advocates will always champion your innovation efforts.

Implementing innovation management

Identify your key sponsors

You need to encourage engagement by getting your C-suite to back your program. Having an overall patron or champion for each strategic innovation area highlights that the company is behind your innovation efforts and also shows employees that it's okay to devote some time to the program.

You also need the support of middle management to legitimize your more specific innovation activities. You'll be reaching out for ideas (maybe through "targeted campaigns"), and having the right person behind the campaign will give your innovators the confidence that the right person will assess and potentially implement ideas.

Alignment and support will get you visibility, engagement, and ideas, but you'll need full sponsorship to implement those ideas. Begin with the end in mind and know what you'll do with the ideas. Make sure there are business experts to join the online discussion and elaborate on submissions, evaluate ideas, and eventually execute the selected concepts.

Also, settle on a budget upfront for your selected concepts. It doesn't make sense to collect ideas, only to discover there's no funding for them. Have everything in place for every targeted campaign before you kick them off. Because targeted campaigns focus on a specific topic and question, you'll be able to identify these specifics upfront. You might want to adjust things along the way, but that's what keeps innovation exciting, right!?

Marcel Broumels, Head of IdeaLab at German-based energy company Innogy, shared his experience of how sponsorship helped to create a real impact:

“After launching our program, we instantly decided to bring in support of our company’s CEO; as the sponsor of our biggest campaign. His involvement was crucial to share the need for creativity and proper ideation activities, including finding the best ideas in our business. He was personally interested in the innovation topic as our colleagues knew, and this increased the impact. Later we decided to also get the support of the CHO (Chief Human Resource Officer) as the (financial) sponsor of our department. Having this level of support made it easier to align with other business leaders in receiving their support. Especially when we were in the process of moving ideas through our funnel to implement them, this support appeared to be crucial as at times colleagues needed to be reminded of the priority that innovation had in our company’s culture.”

Marcel’s quote reminded me of an analogy by Mukesh Gupta, director of customer advocacy at SAP India. Mukesh noted that:

"Just like every hero needs a mentor (or a side-kick) who champions the cause of the hero when no one believes in him/her, every good idea needs a champion who can add weight to the idea. [...] If we don’t give our attention to these projects, no one else will give attention to the team. Solving problems in interesting ways is a difficult task by itself, we don’t need to make it even more difficult for the team."

Set up different project owners at different stages and with a clear handover

Once you’ve selected an idea for implementation, make sure there's a clear handover of ownership. The actions needed to implement an idea will require a different type of control than the “fuzzier” activities done during ideation. Agree on responsibilities and choose one accountable sponsor who, ideally, can also decide on budget and resources. Make sure your innovation team is kept informed of progress and keep the rest of the organization updated too. 


So, there you have it: my views on innovation management. I hope you enjoyed the read and came away with some useful pointers to make your innovation management program a success. If you need more guidance or advice, we’re here to help! We'd love to chat with you and share more of our stories from innovation managers like you. Click here to schedule a call with one of our innovation management experts. 

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