I’m thinking of you all who have titles like innovation lead or innovation manager and who are responsible for leading efforts within your organizations to change. It’s hard enough to come up with these significant and beneficial changes for your customers, citizens, users, employees — i.e. the main part of your actual mission. But to be successful with your changes, you need to master two other, critical skills that pave the way for what you create — communicating about what you do, and inviting others into innovation conversations.
Two of my guests on our English-language podcast Innovation Explorers, Maria Giudice and Daniel Stillman, write about these skills in their books. Both talk about innovation leaders as “changemakers” — people who drive change. Remember that at the end of the day, no matter what your title says, you are in essence, changemakers.
(See links to podcasts at the end of this post)
Maria Giudice in her book “Changemakers — how leaders can design change in an insanely complex world” writes about how innovation leaders need to create a communication plan for sharing their work. Maria, who has led change and design work in companies such as Facebook and Autodesk, writes about the importance of informing people about what you do, partly to increase attention, partly to increase knowledge and partly to create support for the changes that ultimately need to be implemented (and to possibly influence employees who have little to do with innovation creation itself).
It can feel a bit superficial to have to think about being responsible for an internal PR campaign for your work. But when I work with and coach innovation leaders, I see over and over again that they have a hard time getting people to understand and share the energy and momentum they themselves experience in their innovation efforts. Of course it’s hard — people have a lot to do — how are they supposed to understand or have time for what’s happening in someone else’s department?
In your work as an innovation leader, you have a responsibility to to communicate and to share yourinnovations projects. As with anything else, storytelling is a great place to start. It’s been said that those who are best at leading major changes are also those who are best at telling the stories about the future. So, as practical advice: practice telling stories about your innovation work, and make a plan to share them in different ways and in different channels. You may be able to hold short breakfast or lunch seminars, you may be able to record short videos and share them on your intranet or on LinkedIn, you may be able to write small blog posts or other things that you can share via email or other digital communication.
What kind of communication plan do you have for your innovation work?
The second skill comes from Daniel Stillman’s book “Good Talk.” Daniel is an expert in facilitation and he believes that one of the biggest requirements for a changemaker (i.e. someone who leads innovation) is to lead different conversations about changes and innovation. Both he and Maria realize that changemakers need the support of others in the organization if their innovation efforts are to succeed.
Daniel Stillman believes that as an innovation leader you should also design conversations with key people about changes. The process makes people feel included and just that small step can help them feel that they can influence the end result. For changemakers, this means that they can bring in new knowledge and new allies. But the conversation, just like your innovation efforts, should be deliberately designed to get what you need and to avoid those long and ineffective meetings that everyone hates.
There is a strong and significant connection between storytelling, as advocated by Maria Giudice, and designing conversations, as advocated by Daniel Stillman. With your innovation story as your foundation, it becomes much easier to design these critical conversations that must take place between different internal stakeholders. It becomes an obvious starting point that is easy to adopt and easier to design a conversation around. And if it works, you can continue to tell the story of these changes in the conversations so that it forms another part of your innovations and changes in communication plan.
Leading innovation is basically leading people in change — and most people are not that keen on having to change the way they work. As an innovation leader, you need to be able to lead people on the periphery of the exploratory innovation work to make sure it’s implemented and ultimately provides value. And you do that by telling and sharing your innovation stories in an internal communication plan and then inviting different employees into designed conversations to make innovation efforts both better and more feasible.
What’s your plan?