So, you’ve decided to start an innovation transformation program. You’ve gained commitment from the powers-that-be to improve your existing innovation efforts and to begin embedding best practise innovation skills into your organisation. You’ve (hopefully) booked G2 Innovation (but if not, we forgive you – you’re still fighting the good fight), you’ve mapped out how the program will run and now you just need to put together your first group of innovation champions. These champions are mightily important, because they're the ones who will initially spread the mindset, skillset and toolset that sustainable innovation requires across your organisation.
The big question is... Who should you choose?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. Fortunately, after almost a decade of working with a diverse range of teams from diverse industries, we’re happy to report that we think we’ve got a pretty good system going.
In no specific order, here’s our recommendation and the reasons why.
1. Involve people from senior management.
Sometimes organisations can be reluctant to involve senior staff in an innovation program fearing that staff will be intimidated, won’t be honest and that the process therefore won’t be authentic. In these cases, the organisation could have some deep-set cultural issues and it’s therefore even more important that someone from the senior team participates. Regardless of the culture however, having at least one senior leader on the team enables the process to be championed with other senior leaders and the CEO.
2. Young and Old
You know how a 5 year old will happily get changed on the beach, whereas a 10 year old needs someone to hold a towel awkwardly around them... The same analogy works in the workshop room. Okay, so innovation doesn’t involve taking one’s clothes off, but it does involve sharing ideas and being completely honest. Young staff, such as recent graduates, have naked ambition, are full of the promise of their career, the joy of working and the opportunities their life will bring. This means they are less fearful of sharing ideas, even if they’re wacky and wayward. They’re also unlikely to know whether similar ideas have ‘failed before’ which means old ideas can be revisited and possibly revitalised.
This being said, we also recommend having some well-established team members in the room. It is important to know how things currently run and what challenges exist. Often it is long-serving employees who can shed light on the reasons why a problem exists- and this is the crux from which innovation always grows.
3. Involve a Negative Nellie
Most people would naturally steer clear of their organisational antibodies. Those people who ridicule everything, who can never see a way forward and who are fond of saying “I told you so” when things don’t work out.
But, turn them around and they’ll be innovation’s greatest champion. We’ve seen this happen so many times that at G2 Innovation we have a soft spot for organisational antibodies. They can be hugely misunderstood individuals, and the opportunity to be part of a transformation program is more often than not transformational for them personally as well.
4. Involve the keen as mustards.
If people want to participate that’s a good sign, but be sure to understand why. If it’s so they can dip out of their day job and get a free lunch, then they are not ideal. Likewise, don’t fall into the trap of involving half of IT because they know about tech and love innovation. By keen we mean that they are positive about change, desire new skills, are pro-active, demonstrate creativity and have high engagement skills. If they happen to have a keen interest in tech and trends as well, then you’ve got a very promising candidate indeed.
5. Include a variety of skills
If your organisation is large enough, try to involve a number of departments and professions. For example, if you have a transformation program full of engineers there could be a limit to how much contact they have with end users, which can make gathering insight more challenging. Whereas having involvement from customer service, supply management or marketing can provide direct insight into end-user behaviour, needs and frustrations. The same applies vice versa. Too many organisations run their innovation programs only at a corporate level, whereas those working on the frontline, be they nurses, factory workers, bank tellers, retail assistants, builders etc can provide incredible insights into the root causes of challenges.
6. Make sure you’ve got humans covered.
In most organisations, I recommend involving someone from HR in the program. Our transformation programs are extremely human-centred, and the skills learned in empathy and problem solving can be readily transferred to people and performance priorities. A happy off shoot of an innovation program which involves HR is that the ‘H’ in their role becomes even more significant.
So, there you have it. The bare bones of creating a powerful team of future innovation ambassadors in your organisation. Sometimes there can be more complexities to consider in the selection of the people involved, or in other cases, there is no choice because unique organisational factors have pre-determined the team (by the way, we've supported both complex and pre-determined teams to become innovation champions).
Nevertheless, these selection guidelines are the starting points from which to deliver growth and revolutions.