Message to the Board – We Need to Talk about Innovation


Innovation should be a regular topic item on the agenda of company board meetings.  If you have not had a fundamental conversation about innovation with your key corporate stakeholders and senior executives then these are some of the questions and topics to discuss at the first such meeting.

  1.   What is the vision for our organization?  Where are we headed?
  2.   What is our business strategy to achieve the vision?
  3.   What role will innovation play in delivering on our strategy?
  4.   Where do we need innovation – products, services, processes, marketing, sectors etc?
  5.   How good are we at innovation today?  What is impeding innovation in the business?
  6.   What type of product innovation do we need? How much incremental and how much radical?
  7.   What is our attitude to risk?  How big are the bets we want to place?
  8.   What resources are we going to allocate for innovation – budget and people?
  9.   What metrics will we use?  How will we measure progress?
  10.  What processes should we put in place to empower people to innovate?

When you seem to reach agreement on any of these topics it is important to play back the understanding.  What does this mean?  What will we do differently?  What will we not do?  How much are we prepared to lose? And so on.  Document the key points.  It is important that everyone is on the same page regarding goals and expectations.

Once the top level innovation strategy is agreed then progress should be regularly monitored at future meetings.  Topics might include:

  1.  How are we doing against our innovation metrics and KPIs?
  2.  Are all our functions aligned on this?
  3.  What impediments are we finding in terms of attitudes, mindsets, skills etc?
  4.  Are we getting enough good ideas?  Are we building enough prototypes?  Are our innovation processes working?
  5.  Do we have some success stories to share?

It is easy for innovation to slip down the agenda because there are so many other pressing issues.  Most organizations have urgent crises to deal with.  Everybody will initially agree the need for innovation but then it slips down the priority list.  So keep it on the agenda, review progress, allocate resources and celebrate success.

Finally a tip I heard from Sue Jefferson who led innovation at McCain Foods.  She was speaking on these topics at a CIO conference in London.  When something goes wrong – for example a new product flops – do not ask, ‘What went wrong?’  It is a rather aggressive question which implies blame.  Instead ask, ‘What was missing?’  This more subtle approach will elicit the issues and problems that need to be addressed.


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2 thoughts on “Message to the Board – We Need to Talk about Innovation

  1. Very good points Paul.
    Too often there is lack of clarity around Innovation’s specific expectation in meeting business outcomes, leading to frustration all round.
    Yet it has a vital role to play as without new thinking, organisations become out of date or uncompetitive.
    The key to success is to engage then execute.

  2. Great to see this innovation geared attitude, i like it!
    I think slightly different about Innovation: Boards are usually (for a good reason) focused on operational effectivess, efficiencies, cost levels and profits.
    If a board has focus on innovation it talks about renewal and replacement of things that do not perform ok, or are needed in the future to compete in there markets. It is a good thing that many companies work that way.

    From my view the board should focus also on growth and actively energizing growth factors.
    The factors that could have more board attention:
    1 – innovation for differentiation; Give the salesteams something better to talk about with customers.
    2 – Innovation, to stay ahead of the competition, a pure survival strategy longterm
    3 – The board should also express an inspiring vision on the future, energizing the workforce and teamspirit for succes.
    4 – The board can even create a chief growth officer, who is energizing the 24h innovation for growth culture.

    Growth thinking and culture of growth can change the profits and longer term performance of a company to the positive.
    Growth thinking is the main success factor for start-ups and scale-ups to create marketplace presence and good revenu streams.
    Many large company boards seems to forget that growth is essential for covering new business&product development costs.

    Thanks anyway for reading this,

    Herman Bloemink
    Growth Thinker – The Netherlands

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