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  • Sam Decker

5 Executive Motivators for Innovation. And the one that matters.

Overcoming inertia requires executive buy-in. Despite talk of innovation, it’s a challenge to get groups of people to do something new. Change takes a back seat to running the business. Let me emphasize ‘running’. Ironically, it’s the running that eclipses a decision for innovation that would increase growth.

I’ll get to the rational decision for innovation at the end. But assuming a proposal for change is right, how does it get done?

Those who CAN spearhead risk are often the most hesitant to take it on. After 25 years of experience selling new ideas, both the inside and outside of big organizations, I have found 5 primary motivators for executives to take risks:

1. Politics

Let’s get real. Anyone familiar with large organizations understands that executives make decisions they hope will propel and protect their own role in the company. Corporate risk can quickly become personal risk, after all. Calculated risk on the other hand, can provide them with the opportunity to distinguish themselves within the ranks. Your pitch should highlight its strategic relevance to the executive and assure them that they are signing on to a winning initiative.

2. Crisis

We have all been in a situation where a downward spiral is approaching fast, yet the company is blind or unwilling to change direction. The impending crisis eventually boils to a point something has to be done. Most efforts are too little too late by this point. Where was the urgency 12 months ago?

To head off this tailspin you can shorten the timeline for crisis realization. You demonstrate the risks of not adopting your proposal sooner rather than later as well as its net present value to the organization. Perhaps you build a pro-forma P&L with and without change, or get political consensus round decision makers. The success of this strategy relies on your ability to get others to recognize the need to act now, and not 12 months from now.

3. ROI Data

A project with clear ROI and measurable impact on the P&L is easy one to champion. Of course not all impacts are equal, but we’ll get to that later. In the meantime, you’re in much better shape if your innovation has ROI justification.

Naturally this is related to politics. Projects with higher (perceived) ROI receive greater budget, a larger team, and a bigger platform from which to showcase their success. Even if the ROI data is limited to start with, it can get the ball rolling to something bigger. Don’t be afraid of the CFO. They can hug your project. The closer your program is to the P&L, the more love it gets.

4. Customer Data

As consumers, we get customer centricty, because we live it. As executives, sometimes we lose sight of the customer we walk through the double doors at the office. Our eyes are fixated on three Ps: product, politics and P&L. However, executives do seem to use more left brain at work, so data can justify a decision. And if you can touch on the feeling customer needs with the logic of data, ideally showing overwhelming customer sentiment (kinda like a crisis), executives are inclined to consider change. This is particularly true if it curtails a possible crisis or mitigates political risk, and provides them with a clear direction in which to proceed.

5. Competition

Competition may be one of the most powerful motivations for change. When an executive sees a competitor, there is usually a response (even if acknowledgement to do nothing). Perhaps your initiative could be that response?

Keep in mind that competitive motivation is not limited to direct competition. You can pull examples from other industries that are leaders. Many times I was able to demonstrate the impact of user generated content innovation by referencing non-competitive brands that showed leadership and were driving sales.

And Now, The Right Reason to Innovate…

As we’ve seen, enabling significant change in an organization is tricky. There’s an act-on-emotion / justify-with-fact that goes on. What happens with high growth an investment is that anything can be justified. And it’s by many of the reasons above, or simply the loudest voice in the room, that drives change.

However, the P&L has no favorites. Only what matters.

The right reason to invest in innovation, idea or hypothesis is simple. You align for impact, which simply means this: There is evidence (or evidence to come) that XYZ innovation (i.e. investment in money and time) will have the highest impact (NPV) to the most important obstacle (also based on evidence) that is preventing us from reaching our most important (and agreed-upon) goal. And that goal usually is something that points back to the P&L, short and/or long term. There’s a process for this, which is why Matty and I started Spinach, which we announced last week (plug!).

Once you’ve aligned for impact, you can use the above motivators to gain momentum. Successfully selling your initiative relies on your ability to communicate its political value, manage or prevent crisis, demonstrate ROI, meet customer desires, and most importantly build competitive advantage. But in the final analysis, real impact is innovation solving a problem to achieve a goal that matters. Which is usually not someone’s promotion.


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