Leading an innovation team can be a truly daunting task–not only are you charged with developing and commercializing bleeding edge leaps in the business, you also have to navigate a political environment that can often turn against you. It's essential to step back and assess how your team is perceived internally and how you can develop better relationships across the organization. After years of helping innovation leaders manage change, we've developed the following eight questions that we believe should be reviewed every single week.
The Innovation Leader Weekly Check-In
- Am I creating a positive internal brand? People who want to do things differently need a cause to join or they’ll head elsewhere. Communicate like a brand in everything you do, even to the point of creating brand-like objects (posters, t-shirts, etc). Keep it fun, quirky, and hopeful.
- Am I empowering an advocate on the senior leadership team? A high-level supporter can provide cover, create connections, and find incremental budget. Look for the person who has a tendency to do things on their own when they’re frustrated.
- Are my team members creating demand for their own services within the organization? Find colleagues that have the raw materials needed to grow an internal audience of their own and whom others consider to be essential members of the team, even if they spend some of their time pursuing wholly new ideas and ventures. Then, teach these people how to manage up and gain more influence in the organization.
- Is there an opportunity to seize a crisis? A crisis means that however things were operating, they weren’t operating well enough. Being a helping hand rather than a critical voice engenders support, so jump in without conditions.
- Has the team celebrated a win recently? Don’t wait for a win to be perfect before you broadcast it far and wide. Change is a three-year process if you’re lucky (five to seven if you’re not), so it’s important to demonstrate quick wins. Remember that no one else is going to champion your successes.
- Are we acting like a grassroots organization? Hold scrappy meetups over bagels. Start an internal newsletter. Continually ask participants to invite their office friends and neighbors until you have a created a cult of the curious within the organization. It may help to give participants something (like a branded 3D-printed bottle opener) to denote their affiliation to their colleagues.
- Have we received external recognition for success? Get press by inviting a hungry journalist to observe the team’s process with a behind-the-scenes story, and promote employees to be speakers at industry events. Nothing breeds success like the perception of success.
- Am I preserving the team, and myself, for the long haul? Don’t let your change agents burn out, and don’t burn out, yourself. Work hard, but strive for a healthy balance; over-celebrate wins and brush losses aside. Remember, you don’t have to last forever, you just have to last longer than any opposing forces.
Takeaway: Don’t forget that transformation is a marathon, not a sprint: if you can answer even one of these questions affirmatively every day, you’re making good progress.