In high performing organisations innovation is one of key pillars of sustaining long term business success. I've argued before that changing appropriately is one of the key elements of Profitable Innovation™.

Contemporary best practice is having an innovation strategy in line with corporate strategy, leadership committed to innovation, cross-functional teaming and an innovation set-up to effectively prioritise, manage, measure and practice innovation.

The type of innovation that is often most needed are small everyday advances and innovative solutions to everyday problems. Breakthrough innovation happens more often within a culture that fosters everyday innovation.

Corporate innovation has a number of different risk elements, most prominent being desirability (will they want it), feasibility (can we make it), and viability (can we profit from it).

Large organisations tend to approach change and transformation interventions as “big-bang” events, establishing transformation offices and multi-year programmes.

Such programmes carry significant execution risk, especially if they are designed to deliver results much later than the work required to change. Multiplying these risks together paints a damning picture for an organisation that desires to transform its innovation capabilities.

Such diverse set of challenges cannot be tackled by a single person or entity within organisation, and instead, should be an orchestrated set of activities coupled with appropriate tools to get the work done.

In order to reduce implementation risk, experimenting with new way of work should be done on the smallest part of organisation that can create impact sufficient to decide if it makes sense to extended new practices into broader organisational context.

Since corporate innovation is a systemic challenge, my experience is that the smallest part should be a vertical slice of the organisation from front line to executive ranks.

Different layers of organisation perform different jobs, and hence they encounter different problems and challenges.

We can abstract three layers:

  • strategic (overall direction and investment decisions),
  • managerial (orchestration and performance measurement), and
  • practical (execution and delivery).

Based on these, I’ve experimented with following three roles:

  • Innovation board (synonyms: growth board, venture board). A governing role with mandate to execute the innovation strategy. A small team of senior executives who make investment decisions. Not a committee.
  • Innovation manager. A role that manages teams and ideas, and serves as an operational extension of the innovation board. Emphasis on orchestration and coaching.
  • Innovators and innovation teams. Organisation doesn’t benefit from ideas that haven’t been executed on. Ideas have no value without motivated and skilled individuals that are able to take them to market.

The organisation doesn't need to hire externally to fill these roles, but rather look internally. I have rarely found it to be the case that employees don’t have ideas to try in the market, but rather that they don’t have organisational pathways to secure approval and funding.

Three roles above form the smallest slice of the organisational that can still deliver end-to-end innovation, while still being embedded into the wider organisation.

It can leverage on existing resources, doesn't run into legitimation issues, can be measured on performance, and is most likely to generate innovations highly relevant to the business they are in.

A slice at a time.