Corporate innovation can open a wealth of new revenue streams for investors. It can also skyrocket the individuals involved to new highs in terms of compensation and career opportunities. Not to mention the giant smile of sheer satisfaction that it puts on the lips of the ones involved.(Been there)
However, it may also kill your career. Chose the wrong project, and its bad karma may chase you for years. In the mean time, it will also make you unhappy and affect your private life negatively. (Been there too)
These are the main issues that, in my experience, will define whether you are riding the right innovation horse at your company and building your future career or not.
You must be in the right place in your life. Innovation cannot be created in isolation. Projects will need people and, at least in the beginning, they will be recruited from regular operative silos. Think twice if you are one of those chosen ones, specially if your employer is playing catch up with the competition or we are talking about a diversification project. Those kinds of projects will put special pressure on early delivery. It will mean long hours at the office and even lots of business trips. Do you have small children to take care of? Will you have support at home during the length of the project? Will you be willing of dropping things in your life that demand spare time and may be important for you? If yes, kiss your 9 to 5 schedule good bye with a smile. If not, be honest with yourself and with your employer and tell your boss that you are not the resource they are looking for. If your employer doesn’t listen, start looking for a new job.
Your employer must have an history of consistency. Innovation must be integrated in the formal procedures of the company as a relevant part of it. Are those procedures in place? Has your employer defined the focus areas of innovation in the company? Does the project you have been assigned to fit into one of them? Does the project have a champion at CXO level? Above all, flee from innovation fashionistas. Your employer’s commitment to innovation cannot depend on the results of the latest quarter.
At the same time, you should perform your own Due Diligence of the team and the manager you are assigned to. Which is their history? How have they performed in the past? Do they believe in the project or have they been forced into it? Again, in which place in their lives are them? When it comes to the manager, scrutinize specially his or hers connections to the top management of the company. A project in distress can be rescued by a smart manager with the right connections at the top. That manager may become your career insurance policy.
incentives for innovation shall be in place and be known. At some point, typically after a successful pilot, the project has to scale. In some cases, a new division or company will be started and, hopefully, funded with enough capital and resources to have chances to succeed. However, in most cases the pilot will be put to scale in the operations of an already existing business unit. That’s the moment of truth. How is the handover planned to be? Has the business unit on the receiving end been kept aware of the project? Is the new product and service a welcome complement to the existing product line or a cannibalization threat? Make sure that incentives are in place for the manager of the business unit and for its employees – specially in sales – to support the innovation to be scaled. Without the right incentives, monetary or in any other shape, the innovation will die in the silos, alone and in silence. You will have nothing to show for the years you worked on it.
As a corporate employee and an innovator, your career is still your most important asset. Don’t let premature enthusiasm for an idea break it. Chose the right projects and perform your own due diligence. And be honest to you and to your employer. In the long run, it will pay off.
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