From Innovation Graveyard to Innovation Hotbed How Innovation Gets Stuck in the Middle

I n our innovation work over the past couple of decades, we have seen it over and over again during an innovation initiative in an organization. The top leaders are motivated to make it happen. The front line workers are excited about the possibilities. However, middle managers are the barriers that bog down the initiatives because they are not sure what their role is in the new innovative organizational reality or how to get out of the organization’s way. That is where the innovation graveyard is in most organizations: right smack in the middle. The middle ought to be where innovation gets traction given the power middle managers have, resulting from their networks in general, but in particular their connections to the top, bottom, their peers, and externally to the organization. Recent research studies not only view innovation as the critical engine for creating new business and future success for today’s companies, but also demonstrate that organizations are not good at it. Research from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), IBM, Deloitte, PwC and CapGemini as well as numerous academic studies affirm the need for innovation – but they also reveal the same tough reality. For example, a 2010 IBM survey of CEOs cited creativity as “the single most important leadership competency for enterprises seeking a path through … complexity” but a parallel IBM study of Chief Human Resource Officers demonstrated that only 31% felt they were effective at developing the leadership necessary to sustain organizational innovation. CCL’s own 2014 survey found a striking gap between the need for innovation and the ability to deliver. Nearly everyone who took part in CCL’s 500-person client panel said innovation is a key driver of success (94 percent) but relatively few (14 percent) were confident about their organization’s ability to drive innovation effectively -- despite 77 percent reporting that their organizations have made attempts to improve innovation.

By David Magellan Horth and Jonathan R. Vehar

It seems that executives, managers, and OD and HR professionals are unsure how to drive innovation or foster the leadership skills needed to innovate. Organizations struggle in spite of efforts to foster innovation cultures and teach innovation processes or tactics. Here is a quote from a member of our client panel from 2014: “The senior leader spoke of innovation, used the word in every large and small presentation he gave and got everyone excited, but no one, himself included, did anything. I feel like there was a misunderstanding of what innovation actually meant and what needed to be done to promote and execute on innovation.”

94% …say Innovation is Important

14% …say their

organization is effective at Innovation

10 | Developing Leaders Issue 23: 2016

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