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INNOVATION MANAGER

by iladmin

 job in incubation// Maayan Hagar, corporate innovation manager at Osem Nestle IL

I was asked this week by a colleague who is building an innovation team, “What are the main and most important two qualifications that an innovation manager should have?”

I think this question demonstrates very well the confusion many feel when coming to define their own organizational needs, and to choose the right person in the right place that will spark up the innovation light and make this magic catch the entire organizational community. 

Well, I’m not exposing my answer yet. . .  This question made me think about recruiting for a job that is not yet fully defined, that has as many faces as the number of organizations holding it. That is recommended now even by the government itself (for its own public organizations) and in other places covers a wide field of expertise.

I can tell from what I’ve seen that organizations tend to look internally first. They try and find some of the workers that are already familiar with the ways of the company, the people in it and the professional know-how of the organization. However, they are also looking for this extra something. It shouldn’t be about a worker who constantly comes up with new ideas; it’s usually much wider than this.

The most joyful and intrinsic motivation human beings have for taking any action is the desire to meet our needs and the needs of others.” — Marshall Rosenberg

Marshall Rosenberg was an American psychologist, mediator, author and teacher. Starting in the early 1960s, he developed Nonviolent Communication, a process for supporting partnership and resolving conflict within people, in relationships, and in society.

Organizations are trying to find today people that have great understanding of teams, broad view of processes and worlds of content and the ability to lead people into unknown and faraway places. That’s only part of the job. while the other part has to do with business understanding, the connection between unconnected teams, people and processes and capturing the deepest needs in order to search and come up with the best solutions. It all has to be accurate and fast.

So, what we have here is not exactly any of the familiar job descriptions, but rather something that is more related to personal abilities and qualities–the same few slippery definitions that recruiters will always try to identify, but can never be positive about. And another open question regarding this job description is: what is the best background for a job that includes identifying opportunity areas, finding a variety of solutions that come from different places, different worlds of knowledge from inside and outside of the organization? The answer is not yet clear and takes some time to answer for those who are looking to manage an innovation process in their company. What I see today more clearly is the influence of being an insider on the success of the process. A great deal of trust is needed here, and a ‘touch’ or a demonstration of a tool is not enough to make a change in the environment and routines of a working community.   

Among all that comes the method. As I mentioned before, in some conversations I had before with other respected innovation managers, the first thing to do is method sharing.  From all the methods I have met, these are my insights:

There is a method! It looks familiar to a person standing from the outside, but the details that determine the innovation routines are a language, unique and internal to each and every company, containing its DNA of knowledge-sharing and teamwork. Having a method helps a lot with defining some of the steps in the formal innovation process, but what really helps driving processes and making them happen is still a non-formal spirit that has to come from the top down and be supported and empowered by this right person–the innovation manager.  

I would like to bring up two examples from the day to day in my organization where inspiration of connecting dots in a process worked very well. It is relevant to any organization, not exclusive to the food industry that I’m part of at the moment.

My first story is about identifying the ‘free radicals’ in the organization (people with new world job titles that provide complex services that are hard to understand unless you drill down into their real functionality) and connecting them to the right people in order to upgrade and upscale existing and new initiatives. One of those is our ‘LEAN OFFICER’, who is  deals with business excellence, motivating processes and fixing failure points herself. To the day we started collaborating, lean was well known in the factories and along value chain and less known among our marketing teams. Working together, bringing more tools and professional  points of view to innovation and  product exploration areas enabled a stronger, faster and more validated process, that motivated all teams to create real impact in the mutual processes. 

And the second is about identifying a need in the field of importing ready made products. Osem is a production based company; therefore it had a purchasing team that was dedicated to raw materials. Working closely with marketing teams made me realize there is a growing need in external production sources that local factories cannot supply in order to satisfy consumer expectations. Connecting a purchase expert to marketing teams branded as innovation purchase team, making this roll significant from early concept stages, building a process and a common language of working with visual concepts coming out of innovation days (rather than a written standard brief) and communicating this new neural connection to the management worked wonderfully. Just a remark about using visual tools: according to the ‘cone of learning model‘, reading is the least effective way of learning, with only 10% of information being retained. Using visuals triples that amount, so, if I could have this article written as an infographic I’m sure that could be effective and motivating for the writer and reader as well. A new flow of ideas and possibilities was created by identifying a gap in the process, using existing resources and defining the workflow for two parties that worked together but had a different way of communication in the past.

My conclusion and answer to the question that was presented to me is that the world is moving to multidisciplinary teams for a very good reason, managing and motivating real collaboration between teams/ functions/ people requires a set of skills that includes:

  • Working closely with many kinds of teams and people (meaning you are part of the team and not only managing or advising to the process).
  • Identify the needs and problems of your teams and from your broad point of view, being able to ‘copy- paste’ abilities and ideas from one place to another in a way that creates a new functionality or idea come to life with minimum effort and maximum value for all partners.  
  • Being a leader means setting a personal example- being able to expand your knowledge all the time, learn and understand worlds of content and mediate them to the local and organizational workflow, helps other people open up to new platforms, ideas and workflows and embrace constant change instead of fearing it.  

To sum it up: the long term personal relationship style of management and the ability to understand worlds of content fast enough making the right connections with external world in order to upgrade a product, service or idea should be the main capabilities to have in mind when recruiting people to such new processes.

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