Measuring Innovation part two : How Innovation Coaching Can Help.

Heart surrounded by a tape measure symbolising the challenge of measuring intrinsic motivation

Last month we outlined how innovation metrics and the innovation audit can play a key role in evaluating innovation performance.

We also touched on how intrinsic motivation or passion is one of the key factors that influences innovation success, and how innovation metrics are not generally very good at measuring it.

This month we consider the subject of innovation coaching, what it is and the key role it can play in helping to build levels of intrinsic motivation among individuals and teams.

First of all let’s consider why innovation coaching is necessary.

By definition an innovation team is creating something new. The problems the team encounter during an innovation project are often problems that they have never encountered before. In order to solve those problems they need to learn new skills and also to strengthen personal qualities like resilience and belief that they can solve the problem.

The Process Is Part Of The Innovation

This means that the process by which the innovation is achieved is itself part of the innovation. Contrast this with the processes that are used for ongoing business operations. These are usually tried and tested and codified.

Because processes for the operational side of the business are ‘known’ quantities, organisations generally want to measure the output of such processes - what has been produced through these processes.

A bias towards ‘output’ measures is common in organisations. However, it brings problems when senior management assess innovation teams primarily on output measures. What is the output of this innovation project?  They may ask.

The team may have been working intensively, undertaking cycles of problem solving to develop their idea. Indeed the innovation capability of the team may be significantly higher than when they first started the projects several months or even years ago.

 However, they may not yet have an output – a new product or service or other innovation.

The intensifying call to see an ‘output’ adds to the burden of stress on the innovation team.

Now, we are not suggesting that innovation teams should be given limitless resources and never questioned about their progress.  But how they are measured is important, and how those measurements are interpreted can impact upon the motivation of the team and ultimately the success of the project.

There are real risks in assessing innovation teams in a similar way to assessing operational teams, these include:-

  • Assessing innovation metrics with a purely analytical mindset. There may be no one taking responsibility to explore the full potential of the project. Potential is critical to innovation.

In the example last month James Dyson made losses for fourteen years, but he could see the potential of the project and that it was worth continuing.

  • Assessing the team on their output alone may mean that they are not given enough credit for the progress they have made on their innovation process. This may adversely affect their motivation.

Innovation Coaching

This is where Innovation coaching can help.

Innovation coaching provides a framework to evaluate performance in a more qualitative and interpretative way. It enables the team leader to identify and appreciate the ‘learning’ that has taken place along the innovation journey and also to put some value on it.

In addition, innovation coaching supports the innovation team leader so he in turn can support the team better. In this way there is a greater chance of them all staying committed to the project.

What Is Innovation Coaching?

Innovation coaching is a style of management and leadership that helps the innovation team to achieve the greatest potential with their innovation projects.

Innovation coaching can be provided by a senior manager with innovation coaching skills, or by an external innovation coach.

Innovation coaching is underpinned by the same core skills that are required for any type of coaching.

  • Empathy
  • Listening
  • The ability to ‘see’ and believe in the potential of the innovation team
  • Support and encouragement
  • Coaching process skills

In addition, an innovation coach is likely to have innovation skills and knowledge.

The innovation coach will help their coachee to:-

  • explore the issues around a particular innovation initiative.
  • set goals for what she wants to achieve through coaching.
  • generate options.
  • develop action plans.

 How Can Innovation Coaching Help?

The specific benefits of having an innovation coach or a coaching style when managing innovators is:-

  1. Creates space for the innovator to explore ideas that may help him further develop his innovation projects.
  2. Helps the innovator by providing tools and techniques that can help him release his innovation potential. This may include learning specific innovation tools and techniques or perhaps techniques related to emotional intelligence. This might include helping the innovator to create empowering beliefs about his innovation projects, or helping him change his language so that he is using vocabulary that motivates the team.
  3. Helps him develop questioning skills so that he can diagnose problems and find solutions.
  4. Helps the team develop strategies and plans to cope with the internal marketing of their project within the organisation. This may help them respond to any criticism that the team is not making progress.

Innovation is becoming a more complex process for many organisations. This is due to the need to collaborate with suppliers and other third parties, assess the opportunities that new technologies present and also to increase the efficiency of innovation processes. Such challenges can make the innovation team feel that much of the time they are under significant pressure.

Innovation coaching can play a key role in supporting the innovation team leader, helping her reach her personal potential and helping her to realise the full potential of the innovation project.