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Great Innovators Are Great Communicators

January 21, 2013 15inno 7 Comments

Corporate innovation teams at big companies need to pay more attention to communication if they want to improve their success rate of their innovation outcomes.

They need to communicate internally in order to get the support needed to make innovation happen and they need to communicate externally in order to be able to bring in the best external resources to the innovation process.

I often state that when we talk about the intersection of innovation and communication in the forms of PR, branding and promotion, this used to be all about the innovation outcomes (products and services). The sales and marketing functions deal with this so the innovation people did not really have to focus on innovation. This is changing for a couple of reasons.

One is that innovation is getting more and more holistic. You can no longer just innovate in the R&D unit and then let other functions take over. It is all tied together and the communication skills needed to bring innovation to market are getting increasing important.

Another reason, which builds further on my first point is that corporate innovation teams that really care about their success rate pay more attention to what happens after they let go of their work. The best communicators are often those who created the product or service – if they did their job well (focused on getting a job done for a paying customer). If so, they need to be involved on how to position and sell the innovation as it enters the value chain and eventually hits the customers or end-users.

What can corporate innovation teams – and innovators in general – do to improve their communication skills? Here you get some of my views.

Get started: This sounds obvious, but it is kind of scary to witness the number of corporate innovation teams with no focus on the communication aspect of their corporate innovation capabilities. They have no idea why this even matters and as such they don’t have any strategy or tactical tools to work with. They don’t develop their skills and mindset either.

Have a clear message that resonates with the audience: Too often, corporate functions involved with innovation efforts are too caught up in the own world and thus they communicate with their own terms and words even though this might not resonate with the audience. You need to see the bigger picture and go beyond your own small world.

Some might argue that this is why you let corporate communications teams do the work as they are trained for this. This is true, but only to some degree. The biggest problem here is that corporate communication people don’t really know about innovation and how this happens. This lack of understanding can create problems internally as well as externally.

Use a range of communication tools: Since most corporate innovation teams are not trained communicators (and definitely not in the broad sense that I advocate for), they might assume this is just about exposure on their intranet and in traditional media channels. They need to go beyond this and three unconventional ways for many would be the use of stakeholder management, networking and social media. We should not get caught up in semantics here, but yes, I think the first two can be categorized as communication tools if used properly.

Combine internal and external focus: Communication has become trickier for corporate innovation teams in the era of open innovation as they need to communicate internally as well as externally. A key reason for internal communication is that you can make good things happen faster if your employees believe that they are innovative. A key reason for external communication is that you need to court potential innovation partners in your efforts of becoming the preferred partner of choice within the innovation ecosystems in your industry.

Sometimes you can and should combine both with the reasoning that it is easier to get good internal progress if employees can read or hear about their innovation efforts in the outside world. Perception is a powerful element when creating a strong innovation culture.

I will stop here, but it would be great if you use my views as a discussion starter and share your views on this.

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Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. Kevin Paylow says:

    Stefan – Great insights. Communication is critical to understanding and framing the innovation challenges, selling the concept & new solution internally (often much harder than selling it to clients) and then commercializing the final offering. Without direct and persuasive communication, R&D often misses critical market needs and/or doesn't explain how the new offering is different or important.

  2. Rakesh says:

    Very insightful. Success of most innovation depend on ability to communicate and sell internally. Many innovation teams have a person with role to manage relationship/communication externally……..relationship or alliance or business development manager. Rarely, however, one sees a person on innovation team designated to manage communication internally. Is there opportunity to improve innovation success by having a dedicated person or role for communication?

  3. Rodolfo says:

    In my experience there are differente types of communications that have to be made by different people in an organization. Custom messages at different levels. The message used by a project team must convince the board is different that the message to convince (which in itself is weird to say) the sales team. Just my 2c.

  4. Tim Woods says:

    Absolutely. In my experience communication is one of the most vital aspects to making innovation sustainable. Getting people excited about the challenge, and showing them the vision you have for taking ideas, developing them, and seeing them realised, is crucial. I've seen many initiatives start, and then fail within 6-12 months, and poor communication is right up there as one of the key reasons it doesn't last.

  5. Moises Norena says:

    Stefan, I beleive that not only innovtors have to be great communicators they need to be able to speak two languages: the "leader speak" that allows them to get resources and make innovation relevant to management and the "innovation team" speak that insipires creativity, breaks boundaries breaks the status quo. I completely agree, communication is probably one of the top three skills of successful enterprise innovators.

  6. Michael Moriarty says:

    Good post Stefan. I see a lot of companies that struggle with internal communication because there are too many "hand-offs" in their development process. The innovation team on the front-end has taken the time to understand the problem the new product will address and how best to communicate the benefit promise and proof. But theses learnings are often lost when the innovation team passes the project over to Engineering and later to Marketing. After these hand-offs there is a lot of time wasted on relearning and the original message is too often watered down. It's a real challenge, but companies need to figure out how the original team can stick with the concept all the way through the process to eliminate hand-offs.

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