Innovation is exhilarating but can be exhausting if you aren’t fully prepared for what lies ahead. It requires a great deal of tenacity to see the process through from ideation to deployment. Depending on your company’s readiness for innovation, internal bureaucracy, etc. you can expect to be going down this road for 1-3 years or longer. Before you make your first business case pitch or ask for a cent, you need to start doing the work internally to socialize your vision and garner support.
Here are five suggestions for getting started:
- Know which stakeholders you need to influence and start immediately - it is never too soon to start chatting up your eventual decision-maker(s) about your vision of the future. Gauge how receptive they are. Identify the areas where they are in full support and where you sense hesitation or they express concern.
- Design your countermeasures - now that you know the concerns your decision-maker has, make sure that your plan to address them is fully cared for in your business case. If x is the concern, then y is the solution. As you move forward with your pitch, don’t be shy about addressing their concerns and sharing your thoughts on how they can be alleviated.
- Find your champions - as you start sharing your vision, pay attention to who jumps on board right away. You don’t have to rely solely on yourself and your decision-maker to get a yes. If you have influential leaders in your network who will have a voice at the table as you propose and drive your innovation, make sure they know what, when and how you’ll need their support. Keep these people close throughout the process.
- Benchmark, benchmark, benchmark - talk to industry peers (like insideARM’s Research Assistant), join industry groups focused on innovation (insideARM’s Innovation Council is a great place to start) and attend relevant conferences (insideARM’s Strategy and Tech conference). Gathering information on how the industry is handling and overcoming some of the same challenges you face is a powerful and credible way to create a compelling case.
- Get your team on board - it’s one thing for a leader to have an innovative spirit, or to see a compelling need to improve, but if his or her team isn’t bought in, it can really slow things down. My last innovation challenge was met with a lot of initial pushback. Many of my teammates had been around for a while and doubted if I would have any better luck than all who had come before me. A major key to getting a team’s support is inclusion. Include your team on building a collective vision. Encourage them to rid their minds of all of the past nos and failures and think about the possibilities of innovation without limitation. Once you and your team have collaborated on your long term strategy, ask them to proactively identify the challenges they anticipate facing. Then enlist their help in strategizing how to overcome those obstacles. From there, you’ll be moving forward as a united group. One team, one vision, one goal. Make sure you celebrate each small win along the way and connect it back to the bigger vision. In my case, it took some time, but this approach helped me win over the naysayers, even my harshest critics. They started to believe and worked even harder to drive the change with me.
For leaders who are used to forcing their agenda, this level of organizational savvy will seem like a lot of work. Maybe even unnecessary work. But as a visionary, I have tried to innovate through every method you can imagine. What’s been proven time and time again is that proactively readying the people you need to influence is not only necessary but paramount. You can’t do this alone.