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Innovation Basics: 6 Roles and Responsibilities of an Innovation Program

By Michael Watkins

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Changing the world, one idea at a time has to start somewhere. Even the organizations that regularly bring about revolutionary change had a first step to take on their journey. In the Innovation Basics series, we focus exclusively on what that first step could look like for newcomers to the innovation world. Follow this guidance to achieve faster, better innovation.

The theories underpinning innovation will only ever take you so far. Sooner or later, to enact real change, you need to utilize the innate intelligence of human beings. After all, the creativity, problem-solving, and out of the box thinking required to make significant progress is something that can’t be programmed for.

A successful innovation program is one that makes the most of people’s individual skills, and a huge part of the way that leaders do that is by ensuring the right people are fulfilling the right role in the program itself. In this blog, we’ll take a look at the roles and responsibilities that we’ve seen to be crucial to the success of an innovation program across our 20+ years of helping people land and scale them.

The Iceberg of Ignorance

Before we discuss these roles and responsibilities in more depth, it’s important to understand why the most successful programs are ones that use people from across the entire reach of an organization.

The ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ was a concept first used by Sidney Yoshida in 1989. It shows how those at the very top of a company, because of their standing, don’t have the visibility over the majority of problems and pain points that the organization faces. Instead, it is those at the bottom of the roster who can see almost all the business issues that need resolving through innovation.

6 Key Roles and Responsibilities

It should now be apparent that, while we talk about these roles and responsibilities as specific areas of the program, the people fulfilling these roles can – and should – come from a variety of different areas in the business, both in terms of department and seniority.

With that now understood, the 6 key roles and responsibilities of a successful innovation program are:

Program Sponsor: These are the people who set the overarching strategy, goals, and KPIs of the program to ensure it is set up for success.

Program Manager: These are the people who implement the overarching program strategy, acting as an internal consultant for the program sponsor.

Community Sponsor: These are the people who set the overarching strategy, goals, and KPIs of the community in the program, ensuring that there is a pipeline of Challenges to run and avoiding innovation as a one-off event.

Community Champion: These are the people who implement the overarching community strategy, supporting Challenge Managers in the delivery of Challenges.

Challenge Manager: These are the people who frame, launch, and manage the Challenges, ensuring that solutions get from idea to impact within the pre-agreed timeframes.

Evaluators: These are the people who ensure that new submissions are evaluated in a timely manner, helping these ideas to move through the process efficiently.

It’s very rare that a business will get this completely right out of the gate. However, having an awareness of the need to implement and refine these roles over time gives any new or expanding innovation program the best chances at success.

In this blog, we’ve taken a look at the roles and responsibilities needed to build a successful innovation program. We’ve outlined why it isn’t only important but often vital to the success of these programs that the people given these roles come from different areas of the business, and how it often is a process of refinement than initial perfection.

Read the next blog in the Innovation Basics series: 8 Ways of Raising Program Awareness

By Michael Watkins

Michael is Wazoku's Product and Brand Marketing lead. Away from the office, he's our resident film buff, so if you want some recommendations for a night in front of Netflix or a trip to your local cinema, get in touch with him!