How to Convince Your Conservative Boss to Innovate?
You are working in a a big organisation, and your company needs to innovate (according to you). But your boss says no every time you propose a new initiative. How can you convince this conservative boss to support innovation?
Last week I was in Japan training innovators from big Japanese companies in theFORTH innovation method and lecturing for their new business development departments. The biggest obstacle for them in making their company more innovative is a complete lack of internal support from their own top managers.
Now, innovation is a paradox for top management. On the one hand they are well aware that they have to take new roads before they reach the end of the present dead end street. On the other hand it is risky. It takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of resources. Saying yes to innovation is a step into the unknown. It creates fear of failure, which causes fear to innovate. It’s like sailing to the South pole like Shackleton, where the surrounding ice can stop you any moment. The chance of a failure might ruin their career. Doing nothing and saying ‘No’ is therefore safer.
When you work in a conservative organisation and you struggle getting internal support, you might find the following 4 tips, based on my experience as innovator, facilitator and author, quite useful:
1. Pick the right moment.
From the old English proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” we learn that change starts with urgency. I like to quote the CEO of BMW AG, the German luxury car producer, Dr.-Ing. Norbert Reithofer. When asked why BMW started the risky E-car project with the BMW i-3 and i-8 he responded very honest: “Because doing nothing was even a bigger risk” [Autoweek 41-2013]. Your board, bosses and colleagues will only stick out their necks for innovation if doing nothing is a bigger risk. So, be sure to pick the right moment. You can only present your innovation initiative once for the first time.
2. Facilitate drafting an innovation assignment.
Innovation is often very vague. That’s why you should highlight as of the start the potential gains from innovation, by drafting a concrete innovation assignment. In this way you help top management, from the start, to give directions on the type of innovation they are looking for (products, services, solutions), the newness (evolutionary or revolutionary), the market/target group for which the innovations must be developed, the region they will be introduced in, the targeted years of introduction and the revenue – and margin criteria these new concepts must meet. The innovation assignment is a great compass underway your innovation journey.
3. Invite them to join the innovation team
Your bosses will only change their attitude if they get new insights themselves. So, you have to create a situation where they discover themselves what’s happening out there: how markets, customers, competitors and technology are changing. Talking to customers with changing needs, discovering new upcoming competitors, exploring new technologies will ‘open up’ their minds. That is why you should invite them as members of your innovation team, instead of being in a steering committee at great distance. Of course they are very busy people, and have a lot of priorities. Ask them therefore to join your innovation team as ‘extended’ team members, and let them experience themselves parttime the most essential activities and – workshops of your innovation project.
4. Give them a proven path
Innovation is for most people like ‘walking through a fresh snow field’. As kids we used to enjoy this, but as adults we fear that under the snow there might be pitfalls. This makes us seriously doubt if and how to cross it. So you should give your managers and colleagues a clear path through the snow field: a structured approach how to innovate your company. Look out for tools, techniques and methods who have proven themselves in the past. This will give management confidence that your innovation initiative will have a higher chance of success. One of those paths through the snow could be the FORTH innovation method, which is backed up by scientific research.
ps. Innovation is a struggle to all of us. When you learn to love the struggle, you will be more effective. Wishing you lots of success convincing your conservative bosses!
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