Innovation Journey

A Roadmap to Your First 24 Months as an Innovation Leader

So, you got the job leading innovation for your organization. Congratulations!

The clock just started ticking. Most innovation programs are cancelled within two years. Hardworking, smart, strategic leaders start with gusto, only to hit what feels like a brick wall of defeat.

Nine times out of ten this happens because the innovation leader has not been able to maintain a solid yes to two critical questions about innovation at the organization:

  • Is it working?
  • Is it worth it?

How you answer those questions at the beginning is very different than when you are in month 24. Innovation leaders can see success right out of the gate, but if they don’t aggressively evolve their role, their metrics, and their emphasis fast enough, they will fail to stay relevant and valuable.

Having worked with dozens of innovation programs all over the world in many different industries, we can confidently say that if you follow this roadmap, you drastically increase your chances to not only survive, but thrive as an innovation leader.

I'll break down each of these critical time periods in depth in a 4-week email series.

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Month 0 - Month 3: Purpose


The first three months of the job are exciting and strategic. Your primary role is to define and refine the purpose behind your innovation program in a way that is clear and crisp. Don’t rush past this. Thankfully, your audience is small and primarily contained to the most senior leaders of your company. If you have their support, you are set up to start winning.

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Month 3 - Month 6: Participation


Getting people involved and invested in the innovation program - which is beyond their day job, remember - is the next most important task. This requires savvy networking, political bridge building, and clear communication. An influx of creativity and energy matched with a collaborative spirit among the employee-base will give senior leaders confidence that you are on the right track.

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Month 6 - Month 12: Pipeline

Primary Role: ADVOCATE

Now, it becomes critical to have real, quality business ideas in the pipeline. To accomplish that, you’ll need to steadfastly advocate for resources so that middle management (whom your innovators report to) will allow their teams to spend time on innovation objectives. Your sponsors will need to feel confident there is pending business value set to materialize soon.

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Month 12 - 24: Proof

Primary Role: TRANSLATOR

At 18 months, your CFO will undoubtedly ask: “Are we sure this program is worth it?” That is when you need to have material, significant value you can point to as proof that innovation is working. Engagement numbers won’t work. A full pipeline of exciting things won’t either. You need results that are either financial (revenue or cost savings) or tied to capability (access to new channels, strategic competitive advantages, etc.). You must translate all the work into real value. And if the CEO and CFO don’t buy it, the likelihood of the innovation program continuing is in serious jeopardy.

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This simple graphic shows the journey and breaks down the stakeholders you’ll need to engage along the way:

Start making innovation work at your company.