I am often asked to give corporate innovation training workshops. I always request that the senior executives attend but sometimes when I arrive I find a class full of keen young troops and a sprinkling of middle managers. The youngsters are eager, intelligent and motivated. They readily absorb the ideas and the methods. In the interactive modules they generate and select great ideas for the company. These regularly include new products, services, processes, working methods and marketing initiatives. We select and present the best ideas at the end of the workshop. However, when I follow up in say two months’ time and ask which of the great ideas are implemented or underway the answer is muted. Despite the assurances given before and immediately after the workshop something has derailed the good intentions. The problem is ‘business as usual.’ Once the keen young executives return to their desks they become immediately re-immersed in their day jobs. They do not have the time, budget or authority to implement the great innovations that they conceived and planned. Their supervisors tell them to focus on their objectives and meet this quarter’s numbers.
The trouble does not lie with the delegates. It lies with the senior team. They want more innovation so they spend money on training their younger staff in how to do it. But innovation is not a game for juniors. It requires senior level commitment and involvement. People at the C level in the organization need to agree the objectives, attend the course, commit the resources and help drive the implementation.
My message to business leaders is stark. There is no point in committing resources to idea generation – whether in suggestions schemes, brainstorms or innovation training – unless you are prepared to commit significantly more resources for the implementation of the best ideas. Otherwise you run the risk of disillusionment among the staff who came up with the ideas. They will ask, ‘What is the point of spending time generating and evaluating ideas if nothing gets implemented.’