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Internal Promotion of Innovation

In our company, there are many aphorisms that our CEO is given to saying.  One of these is very apropos in a discussion of innovation—“If you don’t believe, you gotta leave.”  The idea is very simple; you can’t give your best contribution if you don’t believe in the mission, the opportunity, the team.  If you are charged with establishing an effective, endure, and value building innovation culture, you have not done your job unless you have also addressed the fifth pillar of sustainable innovation culture: internal promotion.

In our company, there are many aphorisms that our CEO is given to saying.  One of these is very apropos in a discussion of innovation—“If you don’t believe, you gotta leave.”  The idea is very simple; you can’t give your best contribution if you don’t believe in the mission, the opportunity, the team.  If you are charged with establishing an effective, endure, and value building innovation culture, you have not done your job unless you have also addressed the fifth pillar of sustainable innovation culture: internal promotion.

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People need to see that the efforts of the enterprise are having a meaningful impact.  Designers want to know that their efforts are making a contribution to the corporate goal.  Executives need to see the return on the investment in innovation.  These and other messages of enfranchisement must be constantly communicated and reinforced.  A properly executed internal marketing campaign is essential to maintaining momentum in the innovation program and fostering champions of innovation across the enterprise.

There are many forms of internal promotion.  The successful architect of the high performance innovation culture uses all of them.

It begins with selling up.  Have you ever noticed how a good salesman always compliments your judgment when you decide to buy?  As you build the organizations innovation capability, never forget that establishing a strong innovation capability require significant, on-going investment.  Naturally, such investments are subject to review as are any investments the organization makes.  This means that clear and measurable return on the innovation investment must be shown to ensure the long term health of the program.  Soft ROI metrics are useful, but you also need to identify hard metrics to really cement the commitment to the path of innovation.  (See “Thinking About Metrics” for some ideas in this area.)  But, metrics alone are not enough.  You need to make sure that the achievements and ROI of the innovation have strong visibility at the C-exec level.  Arm your C-level innovation champion with the anecdotes and data to represent the program in executive forums.  Conduct periodic Innovation Program Reviews for the benefit of the executive team.

Selling outward is just as important.  As much as innovation workers need to have visibility to the corporate goals, they also need feedback to know when their efforts have hit the mark.  Information about innovation success needs to be promulgated throughout the innovation community so that innovation workers can see the impact that they and other innovation teammates have had on the organization.  This sort of information sharing is a very powerful tool of enfranchisement for people.  When employees can see the value of their work, they feel more valuable themselves, they feel a part of something more important, and they feel inspired to reach higher.

Don’t forget to make it personal.  Give individuals and teams that have made a special contribution public recognition.  This reinforces the message that the company values innovation in a very tangible way.  When appropriate, recognition systems should also integrate into the compensation system.

Internal promotion is critical to building the lasting, sustainable innovation program corporations want.  Yet, it remains the most frequently neglected of the Five Pillars of Sustainable Innovation Culture.

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