Ask any journalist, if they foresaw that their job would be less about crafting a compelling narrative and more about manipulating algorithms, writing for search engines and tagging their articles correctly and they would likely say no.
Ask any marketer, if they foresaw that their job would be less about working on creative campaigns and more about reporting about return on investment and they would likely say no.
Ask any innovator (intrapreneur, gig mindsetter, rare breed, catalyst, changemaker, corporate explorer, pirate in the navy) if they foresaw that their job would be less about driving change and more about navigating corporate politics and they would likely say no.
In all cases, the focus of one’s work often ends up shifting from creativity to justification.
Like many of you, I have experienced this phenomenon myself in a corporate role. When an organisation wants to send a clear (but subtle) message to an innovation team (or individual) that their experiments are not welcome, they can do this in underhanded, passive-aggressive ways. In my case, the CFO would regularly overwhelm me with paperwork, demanding specific metrics for return on investment and five-year revenue projections. One of the most difficult demands placed on intrapreneurs is to make business plans, that leaves no room for experimentation or the mistakes that are synonymous with such experimentation.
To get the funding, we comply and “torture the data” to give the leadership team the answer they will tolerate. The overarching problem is that such procedures are rooted in preventing losses and avoiding deviations from predictability.
In such cases, an innovation worker suddenly finds they are immersed in excel sheets, calculating return on investment rather than working with post-it notes exploring further investment. These tedious, time-consuming and soul-destroying steps frustrate the innovator so much that they brush up their CVs rather than balancing up their CSVs. They are made to feel that they are failing and have let the company down. They are judged by their ability to report, rather than to innovate.
(Source: “Death by Stress” – Alexiuss )
This Thursday Thought aims not to argue that heads of change or innovation should only focus on fun things, but rather I would like to highlight how it is difficult to measure, report on early-stage concepts in the absence of agreed-upon metrics. Every business begins in a messy, unpredictable, and iterative way before it finds its place, but those who run organisations often forget this.
Not The Enemy
When you are stuck in the middle of this endless reporting cycle, you grow to see the finance team as the enemy, or it is regulation team or risk perhaps? Many years of bitterness and scorn have been wasted with this mindset – Mea Culpa! Fighting the dominant system is a waste of energy that is required for creation. For many people working in finance, for example, the record, the excel sheet reigns supreme. To them, the record of what you do is more important than what you do. They are not the enemy, the broken system is to blame.
So what can we do?
Finance teams and leadership teams require common metrics for measurement, but it is likely there exists no company-wide, agreed-upon measurement to forecast potential, to predict the future. Detailed metrics should apply eventually, but in the early stages of an idea, we must find a way to track potential. The goal of such metrics is to keep people focused on a common vision of the future and NOT to create a stick to beat people.
In our latest episode of The Innovation Show, we talk to the authors of Innovation Accounting, Esther-Emmelly Gons and Dan Toma. Our guests do a wonderful job of providing an “Innovation Accounting Executive Dashboard” to help leaders understand the impact of their investments in innovation. Such dashboards convert innovation team projects into metrics that leaders (and financial teams) can use to make tactical and strategic decisions. In essence, the dashboard provides a common language and common metrics that everyone understands. It is a place that everyone can hang their hat on, not hang the innovator on!
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