Securing buy-in from senior executives is a big hurdle for innovation teams. Without clear direction, each of your attempts is a shot in the dark. Leaders are often focused on short-term goals and risk-averse, making it challenging to convince them to invest in blue-sky initiatives. That is why you need to spell out your responsibilities in a mandate and get sign-off from leadership on the impact that is expected from your team.
This article will take you through the reasons why establishing an innovation mandate is a critical first step in your innovation journey. We’ll show you how to craft the mandate by answering four key questions, and even provide a handy template.
Most colleagues don't care about your innovation plans
Innovation is often not a core function at companies. The problem is that businesses don’t define what innovation means to the organization and then innovators typically struggle to get buy-in from other departments.
One truth is: innovation is exciting. Everyone wants to be innovative and come up with the next mind-blowing solution. Senior leaders like to speak about it at events. But another truth is your top management will struggle to put their expectations for the innovation team into clear words. For the rest of your co-workers, the hard truth is that most of them just aren't as excited about innovation as you are. What they care about is their own job and sense of accomplishment. Maybe, they even fear that their job will get replaced by your initiatives. This is not your fault, but a common situation you need to be aware of before you initiate anything. It’s a factor you need to anticipate and manage.
This doesn't mean your colleagues will never support your innovation goals. You can get people on board with the right approach involving transparency and repetition. But what's needed especially is an innovation mandate. ITONICS' Innovation Consulting Director, Dr. Tassilo Henike, explains this necessity:
Without a clear commitment from the top, innovation leaders are set up to fail. Innovation is greater than an individual. It's a part of a company's DNA. But waiting for it is not an option. Every innovation leader needs to grab the moment, propose a direction (since they are the experts), and proactively provide updates. Innovation is about setting the change in motion and not waiting for it.
An innovation mandate is your plan to get buy-in
To get people on board, you should develop and get sign-off on your innovation mandate. This is an essential tool to steer your course of action and get confirmation for what you’re striving for. It's typically a one-page document crafted collaboratively between innovation leaders inside the company, subject matter experts, and senior leadership. The knowledge of this group must extend beyond the limits of the organization to understand the broader innovation landscape, exploring fields of opportunity, and exploiting it with the right activities. However, this mandate is not just given to you from up high. You need to initiate it yourself and shape it collaboratively.
Ideally, the innovation mandate is not just one department's plan, but affects most employees: R&D, marketing, operations, engineering, customer support, finance, and sales. The innovation mandate offers a clear and compelling statement of innovation's purpose and importance for the company's survival into the future. By envisioning future market needs, it acknowledges that the company will flounder if it stands still in today's ultra-competitive marketplace and constantly shifting world. When competitors surpass your business by developing products that make your own look ineffective and costly, your company might start to hemorrhage customers. Perhaps you're working in a risk-averse company, where you'll need to convince those in power that becoming obsolete carries greater risk than the unavoidable cost of unprofitable innovations. A signed-off innovation mandate will help you justify and effectively communicate the critical purpose of innovation initiatives.
How to write an innovation mandate
In its simplest form, an innovation mandate is a statement of work that can fit on one page. You want it to be easily understandable and repeatable. It should cover four essential points:
- What is the broader ambition?
- What is the primary tactic you'll use?
- How does the ambition translate into focus fields of innovation?
- What outcome does your leadership team aim to achieve by investing in innovation?
Now let's use that structure and underpin it with real-life examples.
|Our mission is to bring the future forward, by bringing the outside in.
|Our mission is to decisively shape tomorrow’s world.
|Our vision is to achieve a superior customer experience and explore disruptive technologies for future telecommunications infrastructures.
|We are developing win-win partnerships with leading innovators. That means connecting the start-ups that share our vision for the future with the people who can make it happen.
|We do this by building our capabilities through R&D and co-creating with partners to unlock synergies and find new solutions to problems.
|Co-research is the key mission, acting as a trusted interface between academia and business.
|Strategic focus fields:
|Our innovation strategy is focused on our hot topics: 1) augmented/virtual reality, 2) security & identity, 3) artificial intelligence, 4) Internet of Things
|We focus on three key areas: 1) low- and zero-emission power generation, 2) efficient transmission and storage of electricity, and 3) reducing CO2 emissions from industrial processes
|Our current research areas are future networks & AI, spatial computing, and decentralized systems.
|This has helped us to become one of the leading telecommunication providers today.
|Accelerate progress on the journey to net zero.
|Set ourselves apart from the competition and generate growth
These examples may not contain a budget amount or details about staffing, but it is succinct enough to be repeatable and set the course of action. For instance, Vodafone understandably does not state the impact they want to achieve in the future, but do say their innovation approach has made them a leading telecom provider. The hot topics they specify are useful in defining the scope of potential innovations. It aligns with our proven best-practice guideline for Chief Innovation Officers where every CINO needs to set the strategic focus fields for innovation to exploit the necessary resources as efficiently as possible. This helps prevent a common phenomenon: receiving ideas internally or externally that are interesting but don't align with the company's strengths and capabilities.
Provide the right detail to get buy-in from leadership
The bigger your company is, the more focus fields might be possible. Yet, even with conflicting interests and multiple directions, it is important to find common ground. You should define a narrow set of strategic focus fields, with no innovation initiatives that fall outside of it.
The simple innovation mandate examples we looked at above are sufficient to communicate the vision to colleagues. Your bosses, however, will want to see more reassuring detail on objectives, KPIs, and budgets. They need to be convinced to trust you and that you'll use resources effectively. Follow this five-point checklist to craft an expanded innovation mandate that contains the detail that the senior leadership team will expect:
- Goals and KPIs: The mandate should define specific innovation goals as well as the metrics that will be used to measure success.
- Budget and resources: The mandate should ask for a dedicated budget and resources so that your team is equipped to pursue their objectives.
- Governance and risk: It should establish structures to oversee innovation activities, including reporting requirements, decision-making processes, and accountability measures. Outline acceptable levels of risk and the process for handling likely pitfalls.
- Cultural change: The mandate might also emphasize the importance of fostering a culture of innovation within the organization, including training, incentives, and changes to organizational structures or processes to support innovation.
- Stakeholder engagement: The mandate should include provisions for engaging relevant stakeholders (employees, customers, partners, etc.) in the innovation process. It should outline how and how often relevant stakeholders are kept up-to-date.
Without setting out such details, it's not transparent what the board expects from the innovation team. The innovation mandate shows leaders what the innovation team is expected and empowered to do. If the mandate is not signed off, the board's commitment may remain nebulous, allowing power players to renege on commitments when it becomes demanding or inconvenient.
Once you're confident that the document covers the required details, approach the board to sign off on the innovation mandate. Provide them with the reassurance that it was crafted collaboratively with relevant stakeholders from all departments. Be prepared for questions, feedback, and suggestions, then adapt the document accordingly.
Once signed off, you have an easy-to-use reference point to align with your leadership team, validate your direction, and repeatedly demonstrate how your activities perform against the set mandate.
See the ITONICS Innovation OS in action
Have more time?
- See How Cisco Ignited A Company-Wide Startup Culture
- Read 10 Features That Unlock Engagement and Collaboration in Innovation
- Listen to the podcast episode about the IKEA Innovation Community