Identifying Career Paths for Innovators

Yesterday my colleague Andrew and I (he’s a Strategy Professor, also involved in our research program), spoke with the person in Organizational Development at the company I told you about a few days ago, who’s working to develop career paths for innovators. Turns out he’s taking a different approach now. Says that all rising leaders in the organization should do a development rotation through the innovation group. Then, they should go back to the business units and be promoted up through the traditional ranks.

Interesting, we said (though we did not really find it interesting at all…. more like discouraging). Why not stick with the plan to promote people up through an innovation function? He agrees that innovation is becoming a function, but also noted that the whole company has to understand innovation, so it’s important to have every general manager do a rotation through that group. Then, when they’re vice presidents of Business units, they’ll be better ‘receivers,’ of breakthroughs, even though those opportunities may not ‘fit’ their business units very well.

He’s absolutely right, of course. We all believe the innovation…. breakthrough innovation… is much more likely to succeed in companies whose senior leaders understand it and, indeed, have experienced it.

But he’s also wrong, we believe. How can innovation become a function if there’s no one in that group on a consistent basis? If there’s no recognition of success via promotion? Does that mean we do not believe there’s a set of skills, responsibilities, and activities that are unique to innovation? Specifically, unique to New business Creation…the part that’s beyond what the technical team does? When we posed that question to him, he paused. Well….. yes.

He agreed to speak with us again in six weeks or so,..the time it’s going to take him to get buy in from the senior Vice President of Innovation in that company on his plan for promotion that does not involve promotion through the ranks of innovation.

We’ll see what happens. I’m placing my bets that the plan will be substantially modified. At least I hope so.

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