Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Innovation - who needs people?

The chances are that you do! Innovation is viewed as a “soft” science, hard to measure and hard to define. Other business functions such as purchasing, finance and manufacturing are easier to define and seem much more established and “concrete”. Purchasing, finance and manufacturing are accepted business functions with hierarchies and responsibilities. When we talk about innovation, however, the measurements, metrics and operations are less obvious. Few firms have an “innovation department” and even less have metrics around innovation or systems and processes to support innovation.

That’s why people are so important in an innovation initiative. Much of the work of innovation is at the “fuzzy front end” where there may not be as many clear cut milestones or metrics, and traditional transactional systems can’t provide much value. It is this ambiguity that is handled so well by people. In business as in life , the important things boil down to people.

I ask you to go to the cinema to watch a film and you say “who’s in it?” If you are browsing in a bookshop you will read the jacket notes to see who has recommended it and what the critics say about it. If you join a new company, project or team, you will ask “who is the boss, what are they like?” and “who else is working on this?” A venture capitalist’s main concern is the management team—who will be making this venture (and my money) work? The focus is always on people.

Innovation is an outgrowth of the people and the culture of the firm. If people are encouraged to innovate and compensated and motivated appropriately, the culture and processes will follow. If they are not motivated or compensated to be innovative, no amount of systems or processes will drive an innovation initiative. The people are the key to the success of innovation.

Why focus on people? Success in any endeavor is based on having the right people doing the right things the right way at the right time. If you want to implement a successful innovation initiative, you need the right people in place to succeed. People are going to implement the processes and systems to make things work. You need to identify those people. Additionally, different people bring different skill sets and viewpoints to any project, so exposing ideas and innovations to a broad team within your firm can improve the chances of success with new ideas. Finally, a few people who truly believe in an idea can overcome many barriers and management hurdles.

Just as Meredith Belbin defined his Team Roles, so there are a number of people that you need to make your innovation initiative work. The second part of this article – Innovation, the people you need describes the characteristics of these people.

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