Innovation management in risk-averse companies

old school lab - no innovation managementOver the years, your company has been successful and grew to a significant size. That came with a lot of advantages: more stable finances, stronger reputation, more influence.On the other hand, what your company gained in stability, it lost it in agility and innovation management skills.

To fight this trend it was decided to promote innovation within the company. Thus a special team was created or a creation lab to nurture innovation was established. This might sound great in theory. So much talents around, but under-exploited because too deep into day-to-day routine or busy following processes… But practically, one should not forget that such change is profound, and will have many traps on its way.

Here are 10 of them, based on live experience implementing such a change within a very risk-adverse and process oriented company.


Before we start: what would it look like?

The service

There are many ways to introduce innovation management within a company. It could be through special support / consultancy to help innovating projects, it could be with a showroom to inspire people, or it could also be opening a complete lab to allow teams to concretely work on their projects within a special space.

trying VR - exemple of innovationIdentifying the right service to offer will depend mainly on two aspects: the budget, and the company culture. Opening a complete lab, filled out with tools and showcases is costly, and might not be needed for your company.

My personal experience was with a full-set solution: innovation lab filled with last generation of digital collaboration technologies, an extensive set of relevant showcases (VR headsets, connected objects, etc.), and a full team plus long list of external contacts to support projects.

The customers

Your main customers are indeed going to be your colleagues. Among them, mainly two categories will be important for you: the few amount working on projects which would benefit from stepping out of the standard path, and the ones who will get new ideas while being exposed to your service.

The promoters & stakeholder

Your sponsor will surely be deeply involved in your project, and is likely to support it as much as possible.


#1 – Your project will be useless…

… at least that’s what some will say! It will not deliver immediate, direct and concrete value, so some will not see any point in it. Things have been working the standard way so far, so why change? Why invest so much money to play with these modern gadgets and initiate failing projects in fields we don’t know?

This is a normal change resistance behavior, and will happen in any group. However, no point trying to convince these persons: it’s much more efficient to convince neutral persons who can have influence. Therefore you should…

#2 – Secure top management support (from several managers)

This is maybe the most important success factor for your initiative, especially within very large companies where the political factor cannot be ignored.

Even if it was the CEO who put this mission in your hands, there are two aspects you cannot ignore:

  • You need management support
  • You need support from as many managers as possible

Else, your cause will sooner or later be lost!

Management support is needed because they are influential, and they are the ones who will allow the change. Without them, your initiative will only be seen as a waste of time and money, and their teams will not be allowed to take part to this.

But you also need support from as many Managers as possible, simply because you cannot risk to be associated only to your sponsor, else your faith will be closely linked to this person: financial issues, loss of power, job change, and your project is likely to be hit, if not scrapped by their successor…

#3 – Open up to the outside world

Your company decided to change and become more innovative. Chances are that the fuel for this might not be fully available from within the company itself!

There are plenty of ways you can benefit from external inputs and these are likely to be what will make the difference at the end. They can be summed up within three categories:

sparkling innovation

  • Existing innovating solutions: tools, gadgets, new technologies emerging on the market will be exemplary to your internal teams of what could be done and give them some concrete items to base their thinking on. Allowing your team to touch, play, experiment with these objects will allow them to think about new usages in line with their goal.
  • External experts as a service: you need a fresh UI for your new application? You need professional pictures, videos and designs for your solution website? You need to get a new mobile app to run your new service? Chances are that you won’t have all these experts available internally because these needs never popped up within your standard projects. Having a good list of external experts able to support occasionally your colleagues’ projects will definitely be a strength of your service.
  • External experts as partners: your teams will most likely go thread on new grounds, and in which your company has no experience nor knowledge. At this point, your contacts with other innovating companies will make the difference, through building up of partnerships, putting together the strength of your two companies to create new solutions.

#4 – This is a marathon, not a sprint

Remember Rome was not built in one day. So setting up your offer, changing the company culture, insert your service into existing processes, and getting real outcome will take time.

You must always keep in mind that you are going for a marathon, then act accordingly and ensure that your stakeholders, colleagues, sponsors also understand this. To help clarifying the expectations, two main messages have to go through:

  • Toward the management: timelines & objectives
    The general but concrete objectives should be clearly stated and planned. Make the steps tangible like opening of the innovation lab, selecting the first projects or the closing of the first projects. They will make your progress concrete and as a nice side effect mature your services.
  • Toward the employees: timelines & service
    A constant communication around the services you are offering will clarify things and make them concrete to your colleagues, helping them to absorb the change.

#5 – Get financial plans clearly defined & agreed

Since your project will not create, at least in the beginning, any visible value it might become very tempting for some to revise your budget as time goes by, in order to reuse the money for other concrete projects!

Therefore, and as much as it is possible, you have to ensure your budget is secured. Would it be via a wise use of the internal rules and processes, or through getting the support of the right persons with the right budgets. Securing a stable financial status will allow you to unfold your mission in the long term, and therefore should give you more time to prove its value.

Speaking about finances: do not underestimate the costs of maintaining your innovation center (if you go for that type of solution), especially if you are using modern equipment. Keeping them in shape, ensuring always being up-to-date with the latest trends. This represent a significant effort, and has a cost.

#6 – Create a physical innovation management space

workbench to enable innovation managementInnovation doesn’t need to have its own space to exist: you can inspire your colleagues – your customers – with specific support, eyes opener, or even allowing them to meet experts they would never have met in their day-to-day cycles.

However, there are a lot of advantages having a real physical place within your company dedicated to innovation & innovation management. First, this will become THE place outside of their routine, where things are different and where their usual way of thinking is shaken up. Plus – by the fact that they physically have to walk in that place – they will subconsciously switch their brain to another setup.

In addition, this place can be used as a guide and an inspiration. Would you present complete freedom to your attendees, they will be overwhelmed by the amount of potential choices and not able to progress quickly. But would you guide them on a general direction, the progress will be smoother and more significant. And you can influence this simply by choosing the right tools and devices you will present to support their work. A team working on elearning for complex skills, for example, would be inspired by telepresence tools, simulators and augmented reality devices. These will serve as concrete example of what can be done, and inspire them for creating new solutions.

#7 – Create an environment where trial and error is allowed

try and error, key to innovation managementWould you speak with any innovator, or even to any successful entrepreneur, you will notice that one advice will always come back: for one brilliant success, there were dozens of dull failures preceding.

If you want your audience to play the game completely, you must fully allow them to take risks and to be able to cope with the consequences. Innovation is all about exploring some unknown land, so by definition it comes with a high level of uncertainty and risks.

Your service should prepare them for the potential failure: until when do we try? How many tries do we allow ourselves? How much do we invest? What will be the consequences for my career if it just doesn’t work? These are the type of questions you should help answering, and you should assist the team when facing the consequences.

Without risks, there will never be anything different than the standards!

#8 – Ensure that all failure is transformed to a collective lesson learned

try and error, key of innovation managementThis being said, it’s not because one project failed that all as to be scraped to the trash bin. Ensure that your team (and you!) reflect back about what happened and identify the lessons to learn will first improve the morale and help getting some positive points out of a flop.More importantly it will help you & your service to grow up and gain experience, hence better support the future teams coming to you.

A mature innovation support service is an additional chance to be successful, so that all past failure with be the soil in which the next triumph will grow!

#9 – Frame the innovation with gates and processes

As we said, innovation doesn’t mean total freedom as this could be counterproductive. And what is true about the innovative solution is also true with the path you take to create it!

Once the project team has identified a direction to take, you should still structure that trip with some gates and processes.

Of course, you should not end up in a fully rigid step by step method: there are no ways this would be compatible with the trial and error approach. How can you still find motivation after a failure if on top of your efforts to develop a new solution, you have to create 20 documents to satisfy the process?

However, some kind of gates and light deliverables will be needed to ensure that knowledge about the solution is documented, or simply that you can plug your project back to the standard company processes if needed.

#10 – Fill out the pipeline

Once you are ready with the location, the service, the method to apply and have a significant list of external contacts you need to get your customers!

Getting some attention in the beginning might be easy: people will be curious about this strange new thing, and might just sneak in to see what it is about. I speak from experience here! However, transforming this curiosity into real candidates for innovating projects might be a bit different and will require some time.

There are several methods you can apply for this – and you should experiment to see what works best for your situation – but here are some example:

  • people queuing to your innovation management labWow events: you can attract colleagues by inviting them to an event about trending topics. You should have some interesting speakers if your list of external contacts is solid enough! Such approach has a lot of advantages: external partners will be happy to promote themselves, it will touch the best “market segment” since it will attract people with interest in that specific topic, and it will give you visibility to explain what your service is.
  • Trainings / hands on sessions: you have quite few items around the same topic, such as 3D printers or Virtual Reality helmets? Organize a hands-on session about this! If you allow people to really put their hands on such new tools, you will get highly motivated people to come in and to get to know you and your service. And even if they are not having projects fitting, they will speak about it around them for sure.
  • Management selection: another very efficient way of selecting potential projects, even if it’s less fancy, is simply to get the top management to identify best candidates for this. The advantage, on top of getting project selected by people able to see the whole projects landscape, is that once the management is involved, they are more likely to support the initiative and help through all the upcoming challenges.

Your turn!

at the edge

This list is indeed not pretending to be complete, nor a magic list with all steps to success! Every journey is different, but I know that one will meet most of these challenges on the way deploying an innovation management service.

However, I would love to read your own stories on similar journeys: what were your biggest challenges? Would you recommend alternatives or other points missing from that list? Any success story to share? Use the comment section below!

Bastien Campagne

Sr Project Manager & Manager at Atos Consulting CH
Hands-on Project Manager, I have 10+ years of experience leading projects of all size and situations. Coming from a development background, I am also an innovation enthusiast, enjoying discovering how our world is changing.

It's also the case on the personal side since I enjoy very much discovering new places & cultures, traveling regularly around the world.
Bastien Campagne

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Innovation management in risk-averse companies
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Innovation management in risk-averse companies
Big companies quickly lose their innovation ability... Restoring it isn't a piece of cake! Here are some lessons learned while setting up innovation management in a very risk-averse environment.
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Atos Consulting CH
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