What can you do to advance your innovation career in times like this? Let me present some ideas and hopefully you can add more advice on this in the following discussion.
• Align With Executives. You need to have a better alignment between the innovation strategy and the overall corporate strategy. One way to do this is to make an extra effort of understanding what matters most for the executives right now and deliver on this.
• See What Comes Next. Once you deliver what the executives would like to see right now, you still have to be able to see what comes next and make sure that your company moves in that direction. The small wins gained by aligning with the executives hopefully make them more attentive to your suggestions on how to develop strategies on what comes next.
• Go External, Get Connected. As we embrace open innovation, you need to build better personal as well as corporate networks. Look at the external sources you need to connect with in order to develop the offerings of your company and expand your own career opportunities.
• Understand social media. As you work to develop more external ties, you need to gain a better understanding of social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and perhaps even Facebook. Facebook has a more private focus but there are industries where you need to understand how Facebook works in order to innovate better. Use these tools to gather and distribute information and knowledge and to build your personal brand if you have set a strategy for this.
• Build Your T-Shape. In short, the T-shape is about having depth as well as breadth. You need to understand how other business functions work and why they are important to the innovation process. One way to do this is to convince your executives that job rotation programs are great vehicles for building a better overall understanding of your company and its offerings.
• Get Noticed. In times like this, you need to make sure you get the proper credit for the work you do. I am not saying that you should just focus on your personal brand and disregard the work of colleagues. Find the right balance remembering that no one likes shameless self-promotion.
• Be a good faciliator and integrator. You need to know that real innovation happens at the business units; not within a corporate innovation function. If you get this, then you will know the importance of acting as a facilitator helping the business units making innovation happen. Working on the corporate function, you will often also find yourself in a position where you need to integrate external input into the organization. This is a challenge by itself, but it can help everyone – including you – look good.
• Adjust Your Drive. Working with innovation you most likely have a faster drive and pace of change than that of your colleagues. You need to be careful about launching too many initiatives and pushing too hard as you need to get the support from others to get results. From time to time, you need to stop, look around and ask yourself if you have enough key stakeholders backing your projects.
The below advice is based on comments to a similar blog post I wrote a few years ago:
• Know when to move on. Andrew Midkiff stated that “these days you have to be ready to move on if your current organization has decided to hunker down and cease strategic planning until this all “blows over.” Those organizations are doomed to struggle and will not embrace innovation anyway. Learn to recognize the signs. You’ll see the strategic thinkers fade away, leave or get let go, while the tactical managers come to the fore.” Andrew has a good point here.
• Monitor your competitors innovation. Michael Soerensen added that “you will have a strong hand towards management, if you constantly benchmark against your company`s competitors, and report findings to management. Normally this has been in the hands of business development and/or sales & marketing who is benchmarking dominantly on existing products/services, and not on innovation….and it has never been easier to get information on competitors moves, as sources of information is larger than ever…” Getting good information to executives in a timely manner is always good for your career.
• Are You A Future Executive? A majority of the innovation leaders I work with aspire to climb the corporate ladder and even become executives. In this case, you not only need to understand other business functions; you need to work in other functions such as sales in order to get the management experience needed to advance to higher positions. One reason is that innovation is carried out in smaller units not giving you the experience of working in – or leading – a larger department.
I have only heard of a few cases in which innovation leaders advanced directly to executive positions; you need to build further on your resume and especially with sales responsibilities. Perhaps this is the time to develop new skills and competences by taking on new challenges?
Just some thoughts… I look forward to hearing your comments.