Who is an Innovation Champion?

A study by Sergeeva in 2016 showed that people often identified a CEO or a top management persona as an innovation champion responsible for driving innovation. As leaders, it is often expected that they are abreast of the happenings within the organisation and have the ability to spot challenges afar off and therefore, initiate changes inline with their assessments. While it is possible for a CEO or senior executive to be an innovation champion, it is not always the case. In fact, Mckinsey research showed that less than one-third of senior executives actively drive innovation.

Therefore, an innovation champion is defined as someone who is willing to promote and implement innovation despite the risks. More elaborately, Langdon Morris, co-founder of InnovationLabs LLC defines innovation champions as individuals who encourage, promote, nudge, support, and drive innovation within their organisations. This can occur through spontaneous flashes of ideas, ad hoc efforts, or highly structured innovation projects.

Illustration 1: Innovation champions spot, drive and encourage innovative ideas into reality

Additionally, they lay the groundwork for successful, methodical innovation. They take on the task of identifying and supporting creative thinkers; they assist individuals in seeking new experiences that may inspire new ideas; and they foster an environment conducive for sharing and developing new ideas.

While they may work in any part of the organisation, including senior management, line management, staff, or front line operations, the Innovation Champion’s job is unique in that it serves as a link between senior management’s strategic decisions and the day-to-day focus of front line workers.

The importance of Innovation Champions

Organisations are compelled to innovate and enhance their goods, services, and processes in today’s quick changing markets and technology. However, businesses often suffer with innovation and knowledge transfer between projects as a result of ineffective internal business procedures. The existence of key people who champion innovation is commonly recognized as a critical factor in determining the success of organisations (Sergeeva, 2016).

  1. The presence of an innovative champion within an organisation helps to drive and support an innovative culture by creating a structure to nurture and develop innovative ideas. Turning potentials into reality by spurring and encouraging new perspectives and ideas.
  2. They challenge the status quo and dissolve resistance to change by highlighting the positives of innovation over current procedures, products, ideas, etc. This buys in team members and management who were originally not onboard promoting a smooth and successful innovation.
Illustration 2: Innovation Champions onboard senior management and team members on innovative ideas/projects

3. They spot creative thinkers and innovative ideas within the organization and nurture it to the end. Influencing the attitude and confidence of employees towards innovation by encouraging innovative ideas and ensuring a smooth passage for innovative ideas is a major way they do this.

4. They are able gain the go-ahead of senior management and therefore are able to influence the distribution of power and resources.

How to Identify Innovation Champions

As a pointer, innovation champions possess diplomatic skills, serving as the bridge between senior management and front-line workers. They have the ability to build an innovative culture within the organization. In his study on 72 innovation projects across 38 companies, Howel (2005) identified characteristics of an effective innovation champion, some of which are:

  1. Innovation champions possess confidence and enthusiasm for the innovation through obtaining the support and participation of key stakeholders; even persevering in the face of challenges.
  2. They scout extensively for fresh ideas and chances to explore, relying on their own networks both within and beyond the firm.
  3. They garner support for the innovation project by insightfully analyzing the interests of key stakeholders and customizing their selling strategies to be as persuasive as possible.
  4. They also focus on a win-win outcome by connecting the innovation to positive organizational outcomes such as profitability, enhanced reputation, or strategic advantage.

Supporting Innovation Champions

Supporting innovation and its champions within an organization involves being strategic about core structures and the basic operations of the organization with a clear focus on supporting innovation at every level. The depth of interest of senior management in innovation has a ripple effect on the rest of the team/employees. In essence, if the top management has no interest or goal to innovate then barely anyone else will.

Therefore, there should be conscious policies to spur innovation, sharing and testing of ideas and active support of innovative ideas. Failed ideas should be viewed as an opportunity to learn new and better methods. Conversely, successful innovative ideas and projects should be celebrated.

Illustration 3: Organizational policies should spur innovation

There should be regular training and coaching made available by organizations to help develop the skills of innovation champions. Skill development can also be encouraged through hands-on experience by pairing them with seasoned experts or allowing them to take the reins on specific assignments especially when they volunteer.

Mfonido

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References

https://www.processexcellencenetwork.com/lean-six-sigma-business-performance/articles/defining-the-role-of-champions-in-business-excelle

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/leadership-and-innovation

https://innovationmanagement.se/2013/08/22/who-innovates-creating-the-innovation-culture-with-geniuses-leaders-champions/

Sergeeva, N. (2016). What makes an “innovation champion”?. European Journal of Innovation Management.

Howell, J. M. (2005). The right stuff: Identifying and developing effective champions of innovation. Academy of Management Perspectives, 19(2), 108–119.

Hussain Albin Shaikh, M. B. A. (2018). Understanding the Role of Innovation Champions in Industrial SME’s Innovation Success in Saudi Arabia.

https://www.threefivetwo.com/blog/empowering-a-chief-innovation-officer

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