Three Reasons for your Company to Write an Innovation Charter

Magna_Carta This piece was originally posted to the Qmarkets blog

A lack of executive leadership is one of the most commonly mentioned reasons for the failure of innovation. This leadership vacuum usually comes in two flavors. The company’s CEO loudly declares “Let’s innovate!” and then forgets about it, leaving the nascent innovation team fight alone the overwhelming forces of inertia and resistance. Or, the C-floor loads the innovation group with a zillion challenging goals, expecting it to deliver one magic bullet after another, but provides no room for experimentation or failure. Regardless of the road, the destination is the same: innovation initiatives splutter; the sense of excitement subdues; pessimists feel vindicated and cynics argue that corporate innovation is a career suicide.

I think that one approach to deal with this problem is to create a corporate Innovation Charter. No, I don’t consider this approach a panacea; other remedies should be administered too. And, yes, I realize that writing up yet another corporate missive may sound “bureaucratic.” Nevertheless, I see at least three reasons why Innovation Charter could help companies innovate more effectively.

  1. An Innovation Charter outlines major aspects of the company’s innovation strategy.

The major objective of the corporate Innovation Charter is to outline what innovation means for this specific company. It should explain where the company stands today; where the company wants to be in a few years; how the gap will be bridged and what role innovation should play in this process. The clarity about the place innovation occupies within the framework of the general corporate strategy will help select appropriate (and, hopefully, appropriately supported) innovation programs. It will also help identify the most efficient innovation tools, including the choice of innovation management software.

Equally important, an Innovation Charter should create a common innovation language. Many problems stem from the fact that people use different vocabulary when speaking about innovation. The consequences might not be as dramatic as the epic failure of the Babylon Tower building project, yet serious enough to erect a communication wall between the innovation team and the rest of the company.

In other words, the Innovation Charter, after loudly declaring “Let’s innovate!”, keeps the message alive and helps transform it into a set of actionable business initiatives.

  1. Innovation Charter creates the innovation “law of the land.”

I’d be the last person to blame a company’s CEO for the lack of attention to innovation. Let’s face it: CEOs are people in charge of everything, and it’s plain unrealistic to expect them pay undivided attention to any particular business process, including, of course, innovation, a continuous process with no evident need for day-to-day executive control.

So, instead of asking CEO for constant intervention, the innovation team should create an Innovation Charter and asks the CEO to explicitly endorse it (ideally, publicly). With this endorsement, the innovation team can claim executive support even when the attention of the executive leaders will inevitably shift to other priorities.

In other words, the Innovation Charter establishes the innovation “law of the land.” Sure, as any other law, it needs re-enforcement, but it helps maintain order even when the cops are away.

  1. Innovation Charter makes innovation “everyone’s business.”

Corporate innovation can only succeed if it’ll expand from the traditional R&D or product development units to departments that are usually not involved in innovation programs (manufacturing, finance, HR, etc.). Unfortunately, very often, the corporate structure is too rigid, too “anti-matrix,” to allow innovation to become “everyone’s business.”

Realistically, not everyone in a company will be willing to assume the extra-load that participation in innovation activities demands. But even those who are, often can’t because of the immense pressure (applied by their managers) of their everyday routine tasks. Here, an Innovation Charter can help too as it provides an explicit mandate to get involved in innovation activities, something that even all-powerful mid-level managers can’t easily dismiss.

In other words, Innovation Charter sends a message to all: “Yes, you can and you should!”

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About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is the Founder of (WoC)2, an innovation consultancy that helps organizations extract maximum value from the wisdom of crowds by coordinated use of internal and external crowdsourcing.
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7 Responses to Three Reasons for your Company to Write an Innovation Charter

  1. Brendan Dunphy says:

    I kind of agree Eugene but from experience I have my doubts as to how viable this is as to be valuable it really needs a lot of thought and effort.
    I think getting a meaningful definition of innovation that resonates and focuses is the first challenge and that in itself can almost be a ‘charter’.
    A good example is Whirlpool with ‘It allows us to have a unique and compelling solution that a customer validates, It offers us a real and sustaining competitive advantage in the marketplace, We get extraordinary value from it — better payback — something above what we earn today.’
    Anything longer is not going to work in today’s business culture but making things short takes a long time!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Brandan. To me, the Whirlpool’s example is more like a mission statement rather than a workable Innovation Charter. I agree than defining innovation is already a good part of such a Charter, but I’m sure it takes more than just 3 lines.

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