Top 3 Qualities That Make a Great Innovation Manager

So you’ve just been appointed Innovation Manager, Head of Innovation or Chief Innovation Officer. Congratulations! Now the real work begins.

You may have been selected for this role due to a combination of project management skills, seniority and/or your networks or perhaps you were promoted from an Innovation Champion role. Regardless, you may be wondering what you could be doing to not only survive, but thrive in your role as the head of innovation.

Through my experience working with ASX 500 Companies and multinationals, I’ve observed three key traits that separate successful Innovation managers from those who struggle to spark interest, create momentum and cut through corporate noise.

Here are the three character traits every Innovation Manager needs to bring about real change:

Courage — Innovation and disruption do not lend themselves to cultural or social norms. It doesn’t help that ‘innovation’ sounds fluffy and to most, it’s an abstract concept and Australia’s latest political buzzword.

Being ‘innovative’ has also been typically reserved to a few cliques such as the IT and Digital crowd. In many cases, these groups can create internal barriers, blocking speed and raising red tape. As Innovation Manager, your role in managing individuals, champions and teams means overcoming barriers, removing blockers and finding smart workarounds in order to GSD*.

As the saying goes, “ask for forgiveness, not permission.”

The proviso here is that you have an influential sponsor who has your back and understands your mandate. With this support, you’ll be able to confidently move forward, chorale different teams and inspire those around you to innovate, regardless of what team they’re from.

Connectivity –Innovation happens at the intersection of differing fields. Effective Innovation Managers create connections between different individuals and departments. New networks spark fresh ideas and leverage the knowledge from different areas of the business. Part of making things happen quickly involves connecting the right people and resources. For example, knowing that Jane from Operations has special access to a certain distribution channel may help Sarah from Finance bypass two weeks’ worth of paperwork in order to quickly and cheaply test an idea. In the words of Einstein, “You don’t have to know everything. You just have to know where to find it.”

Conscientious — If you’re part of a large organisation, no doubt your calendar on an average week is at least 40% meetings, 20% desk work and 40% waiting on someone else to complete a task before you can move forward. While your role as Innovation Manager involves more coordinating than grunt work, being as responsive (not reactive) as you can will be critical to keeping your team motivated and projects humming along.

Being conscientious about responding quickly to staff enquiries, hackathon entries and providing feedback on ideas, keeps people interested and boosts intrinsic motivation. In most big firms, innovation is part of people’s ‘overtime’ and it’s critical to harness their positive energy into constructive projects.

Respond quickly and thoughtfully to those who approach you and try to direct them towards a constructive team, project or resource to keep them interested in innovation.

For more actionable tips about how to get buy-in from senior stakeholders and IT, navigate internal politics and create real change, check out the Future2 Podcast, Episode #53: From Theatre to Disruption with Sportsbet’s Head of Innovation, Leslie Barry .

*Get Sh!t Done

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