CIOs must manage and lead for innovation
If innovation is your mandate, it’s about more than tools and planning—it’s about changing your approach to IT and the business.
Enterprises that look to innovation for competitive advantage are putting pressure on CIOs to deliver. The mandate requires that CIOs shift their management focus from maintaining services to creating new business value. And it’s not about simply delivering great technology; it’s about better processes, greater agility and responsiveness, and smarter ways of working.
To innovate effectively as CIO, you need to change how you lead, manage, and measure success. This includes people, relationships, and processes, as well as how you measure goals and objectives within and outside of IT.
For insight on these critical questions, we caught up with three IT innovation experts who consult with CIOs day in and day out, and posed two basic questions:
- How are CIOs advancing innovation within their organizations?
- And how are they aligning IT innovation with the business?
Act on inspiration
Innovation is more than an idea—it’s what you do with it.
“What separates a good idea from a true innovation is execution,” says Joshua Brusse, consultant and chief architect with HP Software. You’ll need some new tactics to help your people’s ideas become innovations.
For starters, “get out of the way as far as incremental innovation is concerned,” says Keith Macbeath, a principal consultant with HP Software. In other words, make it easier, faster, and cheaper to execute routine things so you free up people’s time to work on higher-value innovations.
Paul Muller, VP and technology evangelist for HP Software, agrees that CIOs must know when to get out of the way. “Encourage grassroots innovation that’s fostered by workers’ passion,” he says.
To pave the way for innovation, the trio’s recommendations include:
- Automation: Innovation is easier when you get infrastructure out of the way. Macbeath cites a major travel company that made more time for innovation by automating its infrastructure provisioning. This cut the application development cycle times by 30 percent, freeing up time and money for innovation efforts.
- Prioritization: You also need the discipline to prioritize innovation amid competing IT projects. As Macbeath points out, “the urgent tends to push out the important.”
- Focus: Manage for outcomes, not timesheets. Outcome-based management is an effective way to do this. It focuses on the results of one’s work, with tools and hours logged seen as a means to an end, not the end in itself.
But perhaps their most important recommendation is to take calculated risks.
Innovation is about testing new ideas, which requires a work culture that accepts failure.
“CIOs build innovative cultures by encouraging risk in a controlled environment,” Brusse says. “That means making mistakes is a good thing. Nobody really fails until they stop trying.”
Professor Edward D. Hess from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business put it this way in a post on Forbes.com: “Failure is a necessary part of the innovation process because from failure comes learning, iteration, adaptation, and the building of new conceptual and physical models through an iterative learning process. Almost all innovations are the result of prior learning from failures.”
If you’ve established a culture in which people are afraid to fail when taking a calculated risk, you’ve severely minimized the likelihood of anyone coming up with anything new. But more than just tolerating well-intentioned failure, CIOs need to encourage the ideas and energy of those they manage.
“Always back the person volunteering an idea, the person willing to start without a mandate,” Muller says. “You support that person because then there’s a greater chance of innovation happening.”
But supporting your IT team’s ideas doesn’t mean taking your eyes off greater business objectives. Part of aligning IT with the business is helping your staff understand the needs and goals of the business beyond their individual responsibilities.
“Make sure they have a shared awareness of the context, constraints, and capabilities of the organization, so their intellects can be set free,” Muller says. “Innovators work best when they understand the landscape.”
Manage LOB’s commitment to innovation
Experimenting with incremental process improvements may be an issue only for your IT team, but bigger bets on disruptive innovation require that you “manage up” or across.
“Disruptive innovation, by definition, is unfamiliar,” Macbeath says, and it may not fit a person’s existing frame of reference. So whether it’s your CEO, CFO, or a line-of-business executive, you may need to change their perspective to get buy-in. In business strategy, this is often achieved using “scenario planning,” and it can be applied to IT as well.
One thing innovation always requires is plain old commitment. “Investment in time and money is a critical success factor,” Brusse says. When asked what mistakes he sees CIOs frequently make with innovation, Brusse cites insufficient support for innovation programs, lack of R&D funding, and no processes to support innovation.
“People must have time to work on and document their ideas,” he says. “There must be a process to capture people’s ideas, comment on them, and when selected, invest in them.”
Answering the innovation mandate
Innovation isn’t something you buy, or a “solution” you implement. It’s about how you view your IT organization and the enterprise. It’s about how you communicate with your peers and customers in the C suite.
“The best innovation activities are the ones that appreciate the cross-functional power of the organization,” Muller says, “which means it’s a leader’s job to break down silos.”
And it’s about how you plan your strategy, measure success, and inspire your teams. It’s about leading and managing for innovation as much as it is about being innovative.
You can give employees the ability to quickly experiment with lab management methods. To accelerate the journey from idea to realized value, steal a few pages from the DevOps playbook.
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