Are Your Senior Leaders on the Hot Seat or the Warm Seat?

Blog Post Innovation that Creates New Value

It had been a good year-long project for Bob and me. We were working with a team in a $3 billion diversified corporation and our work was showing very good progress.

The company had provided the infrastructure, the team embraced the process, and there was evidence in their language that the culture was now open to innovative thinking. But it was the remaining pillar of innovation, Leadership Mandate, that would kill their momentum for enterprise–wide innovation.

On The Warm Seat

On one of our visits, Bob and I were sitting outdoors on a patio with the firm’s CEO, updating him on the progress of our innovation efforts.  We told him of the energy and collaboration of the innovation team and the portfolio of new business opportunities that they had created to date.  At that point, we noticed the CEO squirm slightly in his chair.  So we offered him the opportunity to react.  He paused, searching for the right words:

“Gentlemen, I appreciate all of your good efforts, but I’m not in a position to launch any big initiatives.  You see, I’ll be retiring in another 2 or 3 years.  I’m just keeping this seat warm for my successor and don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.”

The most important of the four pillars of innovation, Leadership Mandate, was not going to happen on his watch.  There would be no clear expression from the company’s senior leaders that innovation is a critical business imperative for the long-term success of the organization.

Relentless Pursuit of Innovation

For innovation to take hold on an enterprise-wide basis, the senior leaders must show, through both their words AND actions, that innovation is the future.  Every speech, every newsletter, every press release, every meeting should reference the importance and progress of innovation.  When the CEO is tired of saying it, that means the rest of the organization is just starting to understand.

But words alone are not enough.  When senior leaders model the innovative behavior they are looking for, others will follow.  For example, what if every recommendation sent up the ladder for a decision had to contain not only the recommendation but also a “wildcard” recommendation.  A wildcard is an approach that may be over the budget, beyond the timing, or outside of the normal way of doing business that could have a significant impact on the business.  If every manager demanded a wildcard idea every time, then everyone would spend time looking for one.  And when everyone spends time looking for wildcard ideas, you have an innovation-focused organization.

The Hot Seat

When senior leaders feel as though they are “on the hot seat” to produce growth, they will provide a strong mandate for enterprise-wide innovation.  And that mandate, along with the other three pillars, will produce results.

Warm seats, however, only produce comfort and inertia…