How to Engage the Business Units to Lead Innovation

Inbal Elazar
Jan 12 · 4 min read

One of the main challenges in leading innovation processes in a large corporation is to engage the Business Units’ leaders and the employees of the company and persuade them that although everything works great (for now), doing things differently might be the right thing to do.

The Corporate Innovation Leader’s role, among different things, is to lead the cultural transformation which will eventually set a fruitful ground for advanced innovation projects with fewer obstacles along the way. The more a corporation insists on better innovation culture, the easier the engagement process will be.

There are many ways to enhance innovation culture inside the company. I believe it can be segmented into two main approaches:

“Systematic programs” and “backchannelling innovation”.

Let’s dive in….

Systematic Programs

‘Systematic Programs’ refer to end-to-end programs with defined structure and goals. The programs can be both internal and external as both have a major impact on the company’s culture. However, a more targeted effect on the corporate culture will result from internal programs — after all, this is specifically why they are introduced. A few examples of such programs are:

Internal incubator — e.g. AT&T Foundry:

  • developed several centers with a $100 million investments
  • employees get a chance to experiment with almost anything they want. One of their goals is to shorten the innovation life-cycle for products or services that might take two years to launch to under six months to launch.
  • employees at AT&T have the opportunity to come up with an idea and then pitch it in a meeting of executives just like an entrepreneur looking for funding would pitch VCs.
  • Products from the Foundry include “Cascade” which allows you to send and receive text messages from any connected car, home automation and security solutions, smart trashcans, and more.

Internal Innovation Sprints

I see the main advantage of an Innovation Sprint in the fact that it’s relatively easy to produce it. All the resources needed for the event already exist inside the company. This allows creating a meaningful event with a reasonable budget.

Innovation Sprints do not have a single structure and they can be often customized to the company’s needs, the pattern is usually as follows:

  • Conduct a Brief — the company identifies areas of interest for the business and writes a brief for each of them
  • Creating teams — the employees are split into evenly matched teams across those projects. Many companies take advantage of this event and form teams of employees who do not work together in the day-to-day job.
  • Sprint Starts — the teams work together to achieve specific goals within a specific timeframe
  • Final Event — teams come together on the final day to present their findings to the company. Usually, the company awards the winning teams with prizes.

“Innovation Champions” Teams

“Innovation champions” are selected employees of different Business Units that are designated to lead innovation in their departments and serve as innovation team jointly across the organization. By facilitating a structured platform for Innovation Champions that integrates different employees from different seniorities and departments, we can:

  • Collect valuable, cross-sector insights;
  • Spread responsibility among the group of people — no one person is personally “burdened” with either success or failure of the committee;
  • Create innovative thinking methods that focus on identifying challenges and creating solutions;
  • Create an “exclusive” group of people in the organization that are jointly tasked with creating innovation projects — they share responsibility but also get enough authority (and e.g. additional budget) to create new initiatives;
  • Foster curiosity among the other employees about innovation initiatives of the Innovation Champions — other employees see innovation as something worth looking at.

Education programs

Providing practical tools and inspirational case studies are essential for motivating people and eventually strengthening the innovation culture.

Educational programs can have different formats, e.g.workshops, executive innovation trips for different levels of management, visits to various innovation sites or hosting guest lectures.

What we see as most valuable is having the education activity as part of a broader initiative. When the workshops’ participants have a tangible goal (e.g. to design and implement an innovation activity of their own), they are more productive. They are eager to learn in order to execute their initiative, become a meaningful part of the company's innovation efforts and lead a change.

In my next blog post, I’ll explore the different methods and best practices of “Backchanneling Innovation” .

CREATORS is an innovation lab based in Tel Aviv that supports organizations in developing and improving innovation practices. We bridge the gap between corporate and startup worlds. We do so through a range of workshops and innovation programs, formed and tailored to your needs by experts in Israel’s Startup Nation with a track record of success.

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