Editor’s Note: Today we conclude our series on the ability of CEOs to ignite innovation with contributions from Lou Solomon and John Runne. On Tuesday, Adam Hartung argued that most CEOs come from a Finance background and would prefer to discuss operational execution and cost cutting rather than revenue growth and new product development. The following day, Linda Hill suggested CEOs need to replace previous mindsets about how leaders foster innovation from within their organization. And yesterday Lawrence Polsky & Antoine Gerschel contemplated the benefits of Rapid Re-Tooling.
By John Runne, President BzAdvice
If innovation is the path for the company, it must be aligned with the capabilities and strengths of both the executive staff and employees.
The ability to conduct effective change in an organization through internal innovation is completely dependent on the openness and willingness of both the CEO and executive team. This quality goes hand in hand with the commitment and funding allocated to allow the company to truly innovate. In many instances a CEO is faced with staff that is already inundated with day-to-day challenges. Overloaded teams can be dismissive of new ideas, as they may perceive they do not have the luxury of time to implement additional work. In other cases, the closeness and proximity of the teams reduces valuable innovation and a type of “groupthink” can set in where team members share common viewpoints without much variation. Oftentimes team members are simply not fully open with their thoughts for fear of having them quickly discounted or they are fearful of seeming inept around their CEO and therefore keep thoughts to themselves. All this is very problematic for a CEO as he or she needs direct and truthful input from their key executives.
Innovation, in its purest sense, is a tough mission to accomplish amidst the seemingly more urgent issues of keeping a company on track with its primary accountabilities to itself or its shareholders. To facilitate impactful changes via innovation requires a deep commitment and championing of the process from the CEO.
Products and services are a basic functional mandate of operating companies. Breakthrough, innovative products result from a highly focused, properly funded and CEO-directed internal skunk works of sorts. If the CEO has steadfastly committed to the development process and views it as one of his or her top priorities, the chances of success in implementing change becomes very real. Without the CEO driving innovation, much of the effort will become diluted in a maze of daily process and naysayers.
When a CEO clearly sets the innovation agenda and achieves the desired results the next hurdle for implementing change is the company structure and its employees. A rigid internal structure and unsold employees creates additional challenges for the CEO. If innovation is the path for the company, it must be aligned with the capabilities and strengths of both the executive staff and employees. To be effective in implementing change through the innovation process, the CEO must be tough-minded and ready to make all required calls in structure and employees to allow the changes to take hold. This process could take the shape of a minor organizational adjustment and replacing certain positions. Depending on the degree of change that innovation will bring, it could also involve a significant restructure to achieve both alignment and buy-in to the CEO’s vision and directive.
To the question of “Are CEOs equipped to implement change through innovation?” the answer would be yes, if they have a standing strategic working commitment to drive innovation and have gathered an executive staff that has the company properly aligned for innovation to be at the core of the company’s future successes. Innovation for innovation’s sake has no purpose if not being championed and fully supported from the top. Implementing changes through innovation becomes significantly more difficult for a CEO if he or she has not had a legacy of commitment to this process, and an executive team not aligned with that vision and does not openly and consistently support the innovation process. All too often, it is easier and takes less time to look outward and secure innovation. To be effective in implementing change and innovation within and organization, the CEO must be on board throughout the process, open and available to set a course where innovation is encouraged and able advocate for the innovation to its fruition.