Working with corporate innovators across different businesses and industries can create quite the identity crisis. Depending on where you work, innovation could have a different definition and varying levels of impact on organizations. Many companies embrace innovation but do not have an innovation function (which is common), while some companies limit the innovation function to an incredibly limited scope. I like to think of corporate innovators as a community of changemakers, intrapreneurs, disruptors and growth leaders. They are passionate in their pursuit to find ways to transform companies and markets and provide new value to the world while driving sustainable growth within their business. Does this sound like you? Well, maybe you are indeed a corporate innovator, no matter your title.
The corporate innovator community is bound more by how it behaves than the function indicated in job titles. The titles and names don’t matter; success lies in shaping organizational behaviors, bending the proper boundaries and empowering the company to disrupt markets and grow profitably. The corporate innovator helps give the company Purpose and persistent focus on the company vision.
They have incredible ability to be cross-functional in Impact and Influence. They act as Curators of Culture within the company. They also tend to own or are a key stakeholder in the Process of innovation. The accountability to execute on these attributes may not be always implied or clear, but corporate innovators tend to be in a position of specific or implied power to execute on them and generally have the Innovators DNA to be able to move forward the innovation agenda.
How you define and think about innovation also impacts who drives corporate innovation in a company. If you believe innovation is about transforming companies and markets to deliver new value in the broadest sense, then you understand innovation is much larger than just product and technology. It should include the ability to influence external-facing activities such as brand and pricing, cross-functional priorities such as customer experience and internal strategies such as culture.
Where Innovation Lives
Do you consider yourself a corporate innovator or change maker? Even if you don’t have innovation in your title, you may be in a role that is at the heart of leading change and long-term revenue growth. Here are some functions that are common in leading innovation or at least part of the corporate innovators community:
Marketing commonly serves as a home for innovators as the CMO in many companies is in charge of long-term growth strategy. This charge, combined with marketing’s customer-centered focus, makes this function a natural home for corporate innovators.
Similar to marketing, the strategy function typically aims to find long-term growth, and this function sometimes has the explicit mandate to lead innovation. It is not unusual for strategy functions to explore working with startups and other corporations, which is a great platform for collaborative innovation.
It is also common to hear about technology as a home for innovation or innovators given their critical role in digital transformation. Sometimes the CTO or CIO leads innovation for the company and may even have a dedicated innovation team or lab. While it is clear that many corporate innovators live in the technology functions, companies need to make sure they look at capabilities beyond technology when building their innovation ecosystem.
While human resources tend not to lead the innovation activities of the company, it is a commonly overlooked function when considering your internal innovation network. It is vital to include culture as one of the key levers to pull when building your innovation program. HR should be a key enabler of this. Increasingly, companies are specifically creating Chief Culture Officers who often sit within HR (or report directly to the CEO). Overall, the HR function is a critical department to influencing the capabilities and behaviors of a company.
If your General Manager/P&L Leader (which could be your CEO or Division President) said they were in charge of innovation, how would you react? Even if they have dedicated innovation resources, the power of the top leader be the “disruptor” of the organization and set a course for change enables the company to move faster and in greater unison. For this reason, business leaders should be a welcome part of the corporate innovation community.
Of course, if your company has a focused and dedicated innovation function, it is clear this is a home for corporate innovators. Having a dedicated innovation function does commit resources and sends a message to the organization about the importance of innovation. That said, if the charter of the innovation function is not cross-functional and strategic, a dedicated innovation department could backfire.
Who leads innovation is not important as long as that function and its leaders do it with purpose and cross-functional impact while curating culture and driving process. Just as important is to recognize that corporate innovators in a company usually sit in multiple functions. Make sure you recognize what role you play (or should play) and embrace your role as a corporate innovator!