Why You Need to Engage the Board in Your Organization’s Innovation Agenda. Now.

by: Lisa Buckley & Becky Rea

At ?What If!, we coach our clients, many of whom are C-suite executives and senior business leaders, on how to navigate the innovation journey. As their companies evolve to be more innovative, they often ask, “How involved should the Board be in shaping the innovation agenda — if at all?”

The answer is simple. If innovation is mission-critical for your organization, then the time to engage your Board is now.

Start by sharing how and where innovation can help to create value with the Board members. Offer them education opportunities — even hands-on training — and add innovation to their list of regularly discussed topics, to keep it top-of-mind. Put forth a point of view and ask them to build and advise from there.

?What If! recently designed and led a two-hour, interactive innovation workshop for the Board of one of our clients. There was no PowerPoint, no podium and no conference table. Instead, we led the session in an empty space with plenty of natural light and created a gallery-style experience to bring the ideas to life. We covered the walls with case studies, stories and tons of visuals so that the Board could move around the room as we engaged them in conversation.

Over the course of two hours we shared how innovation would create new value and contribute to the company’s growth. We gave an overview of the tools and behaviors needed for innovation — approaching ideas with less judgment, adopting a ‘learner’ mindset and designing rapid, low-cost experiments, etc.

Boards must adopt the aforementioned behaviors to help make innovation happen within a company. Then, Board members should use these new skills to ignite belief and energy among top management and across the business. The six tips shared here can be used to start a conversation with your own Board on their critical role in driving innovation:

  1. Nurture a culture of innovation — Reinforce the importance of innovation in a business as a competitive advantage and set the conditions for thoughtful risk-taking and new mindsets that will activate an innovation culture.
  2. View executive talent through the lens of innovation versus business as usual ­– Depending on where you are in your innovation journey — the desired goals of the executive team may shift. The performance of top executives should be assessed through an innovation lens versus the efficiency and operational lenses of the past.
  3. Think boldly about innovation strategy — Help senior leadership to be visionary in thinking about the organization’s innovation strategy. Be open to reinventing the business model of today to keep the business growing and relevant in an ever-changing world.
  4. Bring expertise and experience to innovation efforts — Use existing knowledge and networks to identify future innovation opportunities and bring fresh insights from relevant areas of expertise to forge innovative partnerships.
  5. Balance the benefits and risks of innovation — Acknowledge that innovation cannot be governed by traditional means alone (ROI and efficiency, for ex.) Instead, establish structures that assess the potential benefits against possible risks (strategic, legal, reputational) of a given innovation while also recognizing that not innovating is a risk in and of itself for a company.
  6. Measure innovation effectiveness — Start small with just a few metrics that are attached to specific innovation goals. Experiment with a mix of both human (culture and behavior changes) and hard (linked to strategic operations and business outcomes) metrics until you feel like you’ve got the right structure in place.

Finally, get innovation on meeting agendas and share the most compelling stories and anecdotes from your own business, organizations you find innovative and your competitors. Innovation at its essence is a very human and inspiring discipline. Get the Board talking and debating about innovation and that on it’s own can be the spark you need to ignite innovation energy.

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