This post previously appeared in Fast Company.
How does a newly hired Senior Technology Officer (CTO) find and grow the islands of innovation inside a large company?
How not to waste your first six months as a new CTO thinking you’re making progress when the status quo is working to alimony you at bay?
I just had coffee with Anthony, a friend who was just hired as the Senior Technology Officer (CTO) of a large visitor (30,000 people.) He previously cofounded several enterprise software startups, and his previous job was towers a new innovation organization from scratch inside flipside large company. But this is the first time he was the CTO of a visitor this size.
Good News and Bad
His good news was that his new visitor provides essential services and regardless of how much they stumbled they were going to be in merchantry for a long time. But the bad news was that the visitor wasn’t keeping up with new technologies and new competitors who were moving faster. And the fact that they were an essential service made the internal cultural obstacles for transpiration and innovation that much harder.
We both laughed when he shared that the senior execs told him that all the existing processes and policies were working just fine. It was well-spoken that at least two of the four divisions didn’t really want him there. Some groups think he’s going to muck with their empires. Some of the groups are dysfunctional. Some are, as he said, “world-class people and organizations for a world that no longer exists.”
So the question we were pondering was, how do you quickly infiltrate a large, ramified visitor of that size? How do you put wins on the workbench and get a coalition working? Perhaps by getting people to stipulate to worldwide problems and strategies? And/or finding the existing organizational islands of innovation that were once delivering and help them scale?
The Journey Begins
In his first week the exec staff had pointed him to the existing corporate incubator. Anthony had long come to the same conclusion I had, that highly visible corporate incubators do a good job of shaping culture and getting unconfined press, but most often their biggest products were demos that never get deployed to the field. Anthony terminated that the incubator in his new visitor was no exception. Successful organizations recognize that innovation isn’t a single worriedness (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment.
In addition, he was once discovering that scrutinizingly every semester and function was towers groups for innovation, incubation and technology scouting. Yet no one had a single road map for who was doing what wideness the enterprise. And increasingly importantly it wasn’t well-spoken which, if any, of those groups were unquestionably continuously delivering products and services at upper speed. His first job was to build a map of all those activities.
Innovation Heroes are Not Repeatable or Scalable
Over coffee Anthony offered that in a visitor this size he knew he would find “innovation heroes” – the individuals others in the visitor point to who single-handedly fought the system and got a new product, project or service delivered (see vendible here.) But if that was all his visitor had, his work was going to be much tougher than he thought, as innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization.
Anthony believed one of his roles as CTO was to:
- Map and evaluate all the innovation, incubation and technology scouting activities
- Help the visitor understand they need innovation and execution to occur simultaneously. (This is the concept of an ambidextrous organization (seethis HBR article).)
- Educate the visitor that innovation and execution have variegated processes, people, and culture. They need each other – and need to respect and depend on each other
- Create an innovation pipeline – from problem to deployment – and get it unexplored at scale
Anthony was hoping that somewhere three, four or five levels lanugo the organization were the real centers of innovation, where existing departments/groups – not individuals – were once progressive mission/delivering innovative products/services at upper speed. His rencontre was to
find these islands of innovation and who was running them and understand if/how they
- Leveraged existing visitor competencies and assets
- Understand if/how they co-opted/bypassed existing processes and procedures
- Had a continuous consumer discovery to create products that customers need and want
- Figured out how to unhook with speed and urgency
- And if they somehow had made this a repeatable process
If these groups existed, his job as CTO was to take their learning and:
- Figure out what barriers the innovation groups were running into and help build innovation processes in parallel to those for execution
- Use their work to create a worldwide language and tools for innovation virtually rapid velocity of existing mission and delivery
- Make permanent delivering products and services at speed with a written innovation doctrine and policy
- Instrument the process with metrics and diagnostics
Get out of the office
So with flipside cup of coffee the question we were trying to wordplay was, how does a newly hired CTO find the real islands of innovation in a visitor his size?
A first place to start was with the innovation heroes/rebels. They often know where all the innovation persons were buried. But Anthony’s insight was he needed to get out of his 8th floor office and spend time where his company’s products and services were stuff ripened and delivered.
It was likely that most innovative groups were not simply talking well-nigh innovation, but were the ones who rapidly delivering innovative solutions to customer’s needs.
One Last Thing
As we were finishing my coffee Anthony said, “I’m going to let a few of the execs know I’m not out for turf considering I only intend to be here for a few years.” I scrutinizingly spit out the rest of my coffee. I asked how many years the semester C-level staff has been at the company. “Some of them for decades” he replied. I pointed out that in a large organization saying you’re just “visiting” will set you up for failure, as the executives who have made the visitor their career will simply wait you out.
As he left, he looked at a bit increasingly concerned than we started. “Looks like I have my work cut out for me.”
- Large companies often have divisions and functions with innovation, incubation and technology scouting all operating independently with no worldwide language or tools
- Innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization
- Innovation isn’t a single worriedness (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment
- Somewhere three, four or five levels lanugo the organization are the real centers of innovation – progressive mission/delivering innovative products/services at upper speed
- The CTO’s job is to:
- create a worldwide process, language and tools for innovation
- make them permanent with a written innovation doctrine and policy
- And don’t overly tell anyone you’re a “short timer”