The COVID-19 pandemic pressed innovation leaders and their respective companies to not only reassess the present state and projected longevity of their business, but also understand how an accelerated adoption of innovation could reinforce or enhance their technological infrastructure. In the end, we’ve witnessed an ushered embrace for permanent technological and cultural changes within companies. More importantly, the drastic shifts have stressed why innovation will remain an integral part of forging ahead our digital frontiers in the decades ahead. As the roles of innovation leaders often relay themselves in different capacities, so do their pain points. Below are four of the most common pain points that these drivers of innovation wrestle with:
"Fostering a flexible internal culture can be seen as almost more important than the technology itself."
An organization’s internal culture plays a critical role in ushering experimentation and innovation. Internal culture can also stymie these innovative changes; since more often that not, people are reluctant to change. Whether it's collaborating with an external team, strategizing towards a tech-enabled approach to promote efficiency, or incorporating a new set of processes, people will often be dismayed to change their habits. If a segment of the innovation leader’s unit or the greater organization can not get behind the plan to make structural changes, their efforts to innovate and enable tech transformations will not be as effective or may stay on the ground altogether. As such, fostering a flexible internal culture can be seen almost more important than the technology itself.
As innovation leaders vye to execute their innovation strategy and notably contribute to the organization’s goals, so do other internal competing agendas within the organization. Finance wants to reduce costs and bolster the organization’s capital structure; sales just got approval to expand their prospects activities and plan to do more in the following fiscal year; executives seek to increase efficiency in operations. And the list goes on and on. Amidst all this, fear harbors the business unit leads of these competing agendas; fear that existing revenue streams will be cut and placing someone’s role in jeopardy. Due to the complexity, large and long-term scale of innovation projects, the role of an innovation leader and their team is often misunderstood. Rather than viewing the company strategy of innovation as a complement to the desired agendas of every other business unit in the company, securing resources and support for the innovation becomes quite challenging.
Confronting mid-management ‘permafrost’, or rather resistance, is not a phenomenon exclusive to innovation leaders, as comfort for the status quo is a psychological and physiological reaction that many organizations struggle to mitigate. When people are presented with a new project or process, even if the idea is promising and relevant, the common inclination is to revert to the familiar. It's not that humans can’t adapt, it's that the process itself can be difficult and at times exhaustive. In the context of innovation leaders, proposing to management that new technologies need to be adopted or that restructuring internal processes is critical for organizational efficiency, can be perceived as intimidating changes. Mid-management may express skepticism towards the innovation leader's ability to successfully execute their innovation strategy, and may question the relevance of the project altogether, or may be concerned about what these changes mean for their own career/relevance at the company. Consequently, innovation leaders struggle to secure appropriate funds for their projects, lack support from key stakeholders within the organization, and may experience motivational fatigue from their team. One might ask, how can their innovation team carry out their plan, if they feel this may stymie their department’s job security?
"Innovation leaders struggle to secure appropriate funds for their projects, lack support from key stakeholders within the organization, and may experience motivational fatigue from their team."
Innovation projects are imperiled when executives defer commitment and delay actions, a phenomenon rather known as foot-dragging. Receiving feedback on a project proposal that requests “additional research and analysis before moving forward” is a trepidation that innovation leaders are confronted with more often than not. The hesitation to give sponsorship towards a project stymies innovation leaders to be effective, meet their KPIs, or simply make meaningful contributions to the organization.
"Hesitation to give sponsorship towards a project stymies innovation leaders to be effective, meet their KPIs, or simply make meaningful contributions to the organization."
Despite their pain points, today’s unprecedented pace of harnessing innovation paints an optimistic future for innovation leaders. As they strive towards being ubiquitously understood as an integral pillar of their respective organizations, innovation leaders must utilize their distinct persona to enable and accelerate innovation.
Download our latest report on Innovation Leaders to learn more about how innovation leaders should focus their energy to get their organization on board and accelerate innovation.