Innovation is the lifeblood of any business, but getting everyone on the same page can feel like herding cats. The more people involved, the harder it gets to make decisions and move forward. So how do you accelerate time-to-market while ensuring stakeholder buy-in and support for new initiatives? As you venture beyond the comfort zone of 'low-hanging fruit' close to your core business, conversations can get tangled in complexity, potentially stalling, or derailing promising projects. In this article, we'll explore the common challenges and share battle-tested strategies to align your organization for real innovation results.
Based on our experience assisting a large variety of clients across industries, we've identified the top 3 alignment challenges our clients face:
Lack of shared vision: Misaligned priorities and goals on a corporate level impede stakeholders from working towards common objectives.
Hierarchy issues: Differing levels of decision-making authority can result in disagreements, hindering the innovation process.
Differences in goals and priorities: Business units (BUs) and functions within a company may need more convincing to see the value in supporting initiatives from other parts of the organization.
One of our clients, a leading chemical company, experienced these challenges firsthand. Their innovation unit had been working on a promising solution for quite some time but struggled to gain project buy-in from stakeholders due to uncertainty and risk aversion. BU leaders tend not to take a leap of faith unless every question is answered. Often, compared to the adage "Fail fast, fail cheap," not failing is far more comfortable.
Our intervention strategy involved setting multiple "gate reviews" to manage risks, constantly validating the project's value. We also conducted a deep dive into the market uncovering what the competition was up to and why it was necessary to move now. This approach helped the innovation unit create a greater sense of urgency and advance their initiatives, secure stakeholder buy-in, even from those who didn't stand to gain from it directly.
Innovation processes can be streamlined and driven successfully by addressing alignment issues at their root. Putting out fires case by case is okay but preventing them from starting in the first place is better. So here are four strategies to keep everyone aligned and focused on what matters:
Approach 1: Form an Internal Advisory Board (IAB)
Engaging with relevant stakeholders from the get-go is critical to avoiding company vision and hierarchy issues. One way to do this is by setting up a dedicated IAB. Composed of key stakeholders from different BUs and functions, an IAB gets the key players from various departments together to share ideas, give feedback, and support innovation so everyone sees the bigger picture and works towards the same goals.
One of our industrial client's innovation units is doing exactly this. They are establishing an IAB including 3-5 key BUs and other stakeholders, holding quarterly meetings to review priorities and identify support needs, and fostering consistent communication and alignment between the internal stakeholders and the innovation unit.
Approach 2: Build Cross-functional Teams
Directly involving stakeholders in the innovation process will enable them to understand the potential impact of new ideas and be more invested in seeing them through to success. Cross-functional teams can also facilitate buy-in from higher-level stakeholders through more frequent idea-related discussions within their groups. It helps address all three major challenges.
How does it work? Form cross-functional teams comprising diverse department representatives like marketing, R&D, sales, and operations to gather and share stakeholder feedback and ideas. This helps ensure that varied perspectives are considered, enhancing decision-making. Apply this approach flexibly, tailoring teams based on specific project requirements.
You can choose to tap into external stakeholders like customers, partners, and industry experts and mix them into the cross-functional internal team as well. This way, you get a wide range of unbiased insights, making decision-making for your projects or initiatives more well-rounded and effective.
Approach 3. Crowdsourcing
Let employees share and vote on ideas through a platform, getting stakeholders to participate directly in the innovation process. In addition, the platform can collect feedback on current projects and prototypes and make real-time adjustments. Similar to building cross-functional teams, this helps create and maintain a shared vision.
The downside to using this approach is that contact is less frequent. This means that getting buy-in from key decision-makers might still become an issue later. On the other hand, an added side benefit of this method is you can coalesce feedback on new ideas and products from external stakeholders. Customers and partners could offer feedback through a dedicated website or mobile app - either open to the public or limited to a specific group of customers or partners.
Approach 4. Implement Innovation Incentivization
As a final strategy, corporations can also tap into the power of incentives and rewards to supercharge stakeholder support and buy-in. For example, your organization can create a culture where innovation thrives by offering bonuses or recognition to those contributing significantly to innovative initiatives. As a result, employees at all levels will be more motivated to support new ideas, effectively sidestepping hierarchy- and priority-related issues.
In conclusion, aligning internal stakeholders is essential for corporations looking to supercharge their innovation processes and bring game-changing ideas to market. You can see a step-change in your innovation journey by blending the strategies we've outlined, customized to your company's unique priorities. A steadfast focus on engaging stakeholders and cultivating a collaborative culture will boost your chances of success, ensuring those groundbreaking ideas get the support they need to flourish.