Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pulp Innovation Chapter Sixty Two

Susan rolled her eyes at me.

"Well, what do you think?"

"What am I supposed to think?"

"You met her. You interviewed her. What do you think?"

"I think the same things that you do. I think that we need either really strong, connected people or really passionate, engaged people for the work to succeed. She was neither."

"Sort of a deer in the headlights. I wonder what she was told when her manager asked her to speak with us."

"Clearly, not much, since she didn't seem to understand what we were trying to do."

"OK, let's regroup. We are wasting time. That's the third candidate for just one role on our team, and none are close to meeting our needs or expectations. Are we asking too much?"

"Not if this initiative will have any chance of succeeding. We need people who will take a proactive stance and push against the status quo. While she seemed very nice, she is a corporate animal and used to taking orders. We need a few rule breakers and some individuals with real passion for change."

We'd developed our requirements for the team, and taken two actions to build out the team. First, we'd identified our wish list - the people we felt would help us the most and be the most difficult to get. Most of the best people were up to their eyeballs in work, fighting fires and mixing metaphors across the business. I didn't care, I was determined to get two or three of these folks on board, even if only as a steering committee member. The second track we'd pursued was to publicize the roles and they kinds of skills necessary and ask for volunteers. Of course even these folks would need their manager's approval, so what we'd seen so far in terms of potential team members were the inexperienced, the jaded and the checked-out. More direct action was going to be needed soon. It was probably time to rock the boat, and I was sure it wasn't going to be the last time this particular boat would get tipped.

Our demands weren't big. For a central innovation team in a Fortune 2000 firm we were looking for three full time people, and another four or five people who could contribute part-time. We needed people to help spot and track trends and develop long term scenarios, and who could facilitate an innovation process and eventually an idea management solution. We also wanted to interact with Accipiter's HR team so we could begin to change the evaluation schemes to place more emphasis on innovation activities and potential rewards and compensation. We needed subject matter experts to help us evaluate ideas and move them through a pipeline. We needed these skills, but more importantly, we needed people who wanted to work on innovation and would commit to working in the face of inertia, quarterly demands and the resistance to change.

Since casting the nets wasn't working, we decided to fish from the other side of the boat. Susan and I prepared a short list of ten key candidates from across the business, and asked George and Jim to help us interview and attempt to attract at least three of them onto the team. In the end we settled on a rotational program, giving fast risers an opportunity for 18 months to rotate into a position on the innovation team, exercise a wide range of skills, and then move back into a leadership position in a business line or product area. It was our hope that these individuals would become advocates for innovation throughout the business, but that's still to be proved out.

Our first hire on the innovation team was a young lady from IT of all places. She clearly wanted to help the organization change, and was very open to new ideas. She also provided a key skill set, in that she could organize and manage information effectively and helped us get our first intranet site established. Over time Lisa became indispensable, and her innovation skill sets grew rapidly. It was also a validation of our approach that someone from the team thought to be the least innovative became one of the leaders of the innovation effort.

1 comment:

  1. Great story so far, Jeff.

    It really shows how deep the roadblocks and resistance to new ideas that a lot of big companies seem to have. And what efforts need to be made to overcome those roadblocks.
    But it's also good to see the innovation team starting to get some good members!