In my experience of running and helping others to innovate, one of the most important factors to being successful is the sponsor of the innovation initiative or program. Although their position in the organisation is important for gaining resource, support and buy-in, what makes far more impact is their behaviour. To spell it out, they can make or break innovation efforts.

Avoid the pitfalls!
Avoid the pitfalls!

As guidance to any potential sponsors, here are ten pitfalls that a sponsor must avoid. If they are not avoided, chances of innovation success will be significantly reduced.

1. Do not sit back and see what happens
As a sponsor, you must set direction, bringing focus to the innovation program. Set expectations so people know what is required. Then participate, collaborate, show interest; this will set an example to be followed.

2. Do not gag the expert
If you have not done this before, listen to those that have. Learn from their experiences and mistakes. You do not have to “reinvent the wheel”.

3. Do not find a scapegoat when things go off-course
Innovation initiatives have a habit of finding a slightly different course than expected at the planning stage. Before you blame someone, check whether this new course maybe more beneficial. If you have not done this before, expect wrong turns, just recognise them quickly and get back on track.

4. Do not fear your peers
You are the first; you are trying something new, well done! It takes courage to challenge the “status quo”, and you will be noticed. Rise above the potential jibes as you are set on a higher goal; when you succeed, they will want your help.

5. Do not kick the keen ones
Implementing a successful innovation program needs support, and you get really keen people who want to help you to make it happen. Treat these people well and they will enable you to extend your reach and accelerate the program. Treat them poorly, and you are on your way to becoming irrelevant and disconnected.

6. Do not expect your people to have poor ideas
If you expect this, you will mostly likely get it. Over-confidence can be unhelpful, but if you really think asking people is a waste of time, it will show in your actions and will be noticed by your staff. It really will be a waste of everyone’s time.

7. Do not have a re-organisation during an innovation campaign
There is nothing more distracting or disruptive in an organisation than a re-organisation. Even if no job cuts are made, people focus on their own position and how they will be affected, ignoring the call to action. If you know that something is about to change, either use the change to drive activity and ideas by aligning to it or wait for the “dust to settle”.

8. Do not stop listening to your crowd
If you ask your people (your crowd), you need to listen. If your people say something and you do the opposite, you will need to explain why. It is better not to ask, than to do the opposite of what has been said. You will be unlikely to get their help again.

9. Do not micro-manage the initiative (or threaten to)
As soon as you even threaten to micro-manage, it demonstrates a complete lack of confidence in your team. As mentioned previously, innovation programs are hard to implement, you need to encourage your team, not threaten them. If you begin micro-managing, the team will fragment and you will find yourself on your own with some explaining to do!

pitfall 2
Watch out!

10. Do not avoid a decision
As the sponsor, you have to make decisions. If you don’t make them, others are forced to, and you have effectively abdicated from the role of sponsor. If you cannot make a decision at a particular point in time, be clear on what you need to make that decision; your team can help you. Do not delay without saying why.

If you avoid these pitfalls, you will be a highly functioning innovation sponsor, and your program has every chance of being successful and maintaining success. Good luck!


NB: First published on Spigit’s website (1 July 2013)