I meet and talk to visionary innovation leaders all the time. I’m not going to lie, selling the concept of managing ideas to drive innovation throughout an organisation, engaging employees and opening real business challenges to the entire employee/partner/customer network to collect, evaluate, discuss, develop and implement ideas… is just ludicrous to many, fluff to some and the golden nugget to success for a few.  Those few that see their networks as their golden success nugget, are the true visionaries.

Unfortunately, most CXO’s are missing the boat completely.  You say you run innovative companies, you say your vision for innovation is known organisation-wide and yet you can’t recite it, don’t play an active role in it and aren’t involving your most precious resource, your employees/supply chain/partners/customers, in the process.  Today I want to highlight exactly what most CXO’s are missing and review the recipe for the perfect visionary innovation leader and why their vision and forward – open approach to innovation will set them at the forefront of their industries, organisations and beyond.

Many in the c-suite today are there after working up the corporate, mostly top-down ladders, where when their careers began, the big buzzy words were not Transformation, Innovation, Crowdsourcing, and let’s try one of the most unsexy words of all…Ideation.  These hardworking ladies and gentlemen were not asked to partake in driving the company forward with their ideas and were most certainly not asked to make innovation part of their jobs every day.  These CXOs are now sitting at the top of their organisations paying lip-service to innovation because they know they should.  Sure, you talk the talk, but when it comes to BAU, as discussed by Gareth Morgan’s recent post on Innovation Culture – Changing Mindsets, everyone just goes back to their daily routine and nothing happens.  CXOs go to conferences and seek to win awards, like the most “innovative firm” in their industries.  They build strategies that have innovation as one of their business pillars.  They even create jobs for “Innovation Managers” to represent that their organisation is innovative.  This is all a song and dance with little value presented, few goals aligned and puny amounts of energy put forth to drive innovation in their organisations.  So, you might ask, “what are we missing?” You are missing a laundry list of important key criteria that make innovation real, accessible, value generating and embedded in your cultural DNA.

To be visionary, or not to be, that is the question.  If you are reading this and you are a CXO, then here is what you must consider:  You want to leave a legacy that goes beyond your time at your organisation?  You MUST create an innovation strategy that you are a large part of; you MUST at a minimum:

  • Be the one that stands up and says this IS part of our organisational DNA.
  • Create a strategy where your management is part of the conversation and understands their role (it can’t happen without them).
  • Be open and transparent about your definition, goals, challenges, process and reward/recognition.
  • Democratise this process – meaning you will engage the entire organisation from top to bottom, and bottom to top, to submit ideas, to vote, discuss, evaluate and develop ideas that solve your challenges and inch you closer to achieving your goals.
  • Put your money where your mouth is and create an innovation budget. Think: you must spend money to save and make money.
  • Celebrate your incremental, differentiated and radical ideas and shout about them to the entire organisation.
  • Talk the talk and walk the walk by talking about your innovation strategy and ideas in your board reports, in your corporate town hall meetings, in your site visits, in your employee reviews AND you must contribute your own ideas and feedback on others. You must be willing to receive feedback – good and bad – on your own ideas.

You, CXO, you are capable of doing this and there are examples of those that do.  Just because we are raised a certain way, doesn’t mean we can’t break the mould…after all, a rolling stone gathers no moss.  Some of you C-levellers are and can become innovation visionaries.

How do you become the perfect visionary innovation leader?  While perfection is something to dream of, but we can always be better.  For example, the CEO and Chief People Officer at one of the UK’s largest Insurance both set out a mission statement that Innovation was essential to staying on top of the market, engaging employees and driving efficiency throughout the organisation.  They in turn created a reward and recognition programme that gave all their employees (11,000+) the ability to submit ideas and receive 5% of the amount saved from the idea being implemented.  This program has saved them over £2 million per year and counting.  Because the C-level can see the future requires that we break down barriers, create inclusive networks and solve challenges together, they know they will drive value for and from their greatest resource (employees), drive better products and services for customers – further differentiating themselves from competition.

Another great example of a visionary leader is the CEO of Mace, Mark Reynolds.  Mace has just begun their innovation journey but what stands out about them is that their leader has put his money where his mouth is by getting a team in place and making it known company-wide that all employees are to be involved in the ideation process.  Ideas are being communicated across the organisation, and Mark and his hard-working innovation team are driving engagement with a transparent and social process.  Leaders that believe in their networks and enable them to be part of the decision-making process, part of the conversation, are the true leaders of tomorrow.  They will be the leaders that create positive changes throughout their organisations and beyond.

I challenge you and your organisation to open your goals and challenges to your employee/customer/partner networks, to collect ideas and democratise innovation and maybe most importantly, to put your money where your mouth is.  If you are ready for the challenge and to go beyond dipping your toe in the innovation waters, I’m ready to help.  Read how Wazoku is working with other CXOs on their innovation paths.   Open your eyes and become an innovation visionary you dream of.