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  • Gunjan Syal

Innovation-Driven C-Suite: A Paradox & Real Life Lessons

Updated: May 27, 2022

This is a recap of the 1.5 hour GoEmerald 'Innovation-Driven C-Suite' workshop presented on February 26, 2022. This is a practical masterclass for data-driven leaders seeking to establish innovative cultures and concrete results in the post-pandemic world.

If you prefer a live, private session of this workshop catered to your team, it would be our pleasure to discuss further:

Workshop Goals

Data is to information, and innovation is to impactful actions.

We extensively researched 350+ organizations in 25 industries over the last 2 years. We also delivered innovation initiatives with 12+ clients in 5 industries during the pandemic (medium-to-large enterprises and technology startups).

Our findings indicate that it is no longer sufficient to remain a data-driven leader. Innovation focus is required for sustaining business success in the post-pandemic world. This is a practical masterclass for data-driven leaders seeking to accelerate their innovation ROI.

  1. What information will help CxOs establish a post-pandemic innovation culture?

  2. How can data teams provide these insights?

  3. Post-pandemic tech and socioeconomic factors impacting innovation teams

Who Will Benefit

  • Board leaders defining the post-pandemic business strategy

  • C-level leaders owning the innovation strategy

  • VP & Director leaders owning the innovation efforts

  • Data teams supporting data-driven decisions

Gunjan's Notes: Innovation Leadership Paradox

This workshop was one of the most human, real and insightful conversations I have ever hosted. The timing of the discussion and the topic could not have been more suitable. We were surrounded by IRL reminders of true leadership in the digital world. I am incredibly grateful that my community of leaders trusted me to open up and leveraged this workshop as a safe space. To honour this trust and to preserve the much-needed safe space it became for each of us, Ive decided to keep the recording private. Here are some of the insights I shared during this workshop. As mentioned in the past: Please note that the data and information below is a result of insights from 350+ global organizations researched in 25 industries throughout 2020 and 2021 by GoEmerald and transform this. It does not represent a complete global viewpoint past these organizations. The data was collected with permission and with our gratitude.

One of the most insightful findings from our research was this:

Boards at the companies investing in innovation are frustrated because there is a perception of progress for only short periods of time. Large investments are failing to produce indicators of real long-term impact.

Our research and pilots with many of these firms revealed that one of the root-causes is linked to leadership. The business world is currently suffering from, what I call, the Innovation Leadership Paradox. Nearly 89% of the companies we researched had mismatched C-Suite leadership styles and the innovation agenda approved by the boards, leading to a lack of impact. Here are some characteristics defining this paradox:

  1. Growth for the sake of growth (GFTSOG): A company is focused on GFTSOG, when it places a deep focus on the incremental revenue from existing products/ services; even when the user behaviour is indicating that those products/ services have reached the end of their market lifecycle. This severely limits the field of vision for C-Suite when deploying the innovation agenda. There is no incentive to explore risky investments, which could lead to expected losses in the short-to-medium term. Ironically, no amount of added features will bring more growth to an existing product/ service, if the users no longer see the value in it. So instead of investing in new products/ services, GFTSOG keeps the leadership focused on expanding the existing.

  2. Focus on hiring the 'done it before' and 'whom we know' leaders (aka relationship-based hiring): 87% of the organizations we researched who reported slower or stalled innovation programs, also had hiring strategies that focused on candidates within their existing circles; or focused on hiring those that had solved the issue elsewhere in the same industry. This leads to a limited and biased pool of candidates in a competitive market. When combined with GFTSOG, this hiring strategy creates a larger challenge because a leader's ability to drive change or make a sale based on existing relationships no longer brings scalability post pandemic. This hiring strategy offered a short-term relief for 65% of the companies we researched. The positive results were visible in the form of incremental growth for up to one quarter, before dropping again. This hiring strategy has the opposite effect on post-pandemic innovation long-term, because many strategies and technology solutions organizations are seeking now are novel and disruptive. The leadership mindset needed to implement disruptive innovation strategies directly clashes with the traditional business model operationalization. Many organizations are realizing this trend because there were 35% more C-Suite level job advertisements to attract new candidates in 2021, compared to 2019 based on our research. There are additional reasons for this increase and that is a topic for a future workshop.

  3. 'It worked over there' innovation strategies (IWOT): In the presence of GFTSOG and relationship-based hiring models described above, leaders develop high pressure to show results over time. They seek solutions externally, usually among companies within the same industry. This creates a mindset that if something brought growth for our competitors, it would work for us if we can scale it faster. This competition-focused strategy adds incremental pressure for the teams to operationalize ideas which may not work within their culture and organization. For 74% of the companies we researched, these investments produced short term results because marketing new products/ services initially attracted some new customers. It failed to retain the customers and did not meet revenue projections past the second quarter, due to pre-existing competition in the industry. 'Stickiness' of the product/ service failed to offer a value proposition, due to the concessions offered by the competition.

In short, Innovation Leadership Paradox is showcasing that the traditional measures of growth, relationship-based hiring at the C-Suite level and a focus on the 'industry-proven' innovation strategies are deadlocking the very innovation companies need to make progress in the post-pandemic world. I hope you enjoyed this month's GoEmerald workshop recap. We will continue the conversation in future workshops. We will share how this paradox is specifically impacting the key value add areas within the organizations. We will also share the strategies we piloted to alleviate the negative impact of Innovation Leadership Paradox.

Until then, I wish you a safe and innovative start to the new season in your part of the world. And, a progressive International Women's Day!

If you enjoyed this recap, join the global transform this community for future editions.

Epilogue: Real Life Lessons

We met with our global community of leaders for this workshop amid the first weekend of the Ukraine-Russia modern war. There are many real life leadership moments from this situation that are transferable to the business world. They redefine what it means to be a true and human-focused leader. There are three key themes I have seen so far:

1. True leaders stand with, not just for, their people: As per Volodymyr Zelenskyy, "I need ammunition, not a ride". He declined an offer from US to evacuate Ukraine at the brink of war, choosing to stay with his people on the ground and fight alongside them.

2. True leadership is infectious: When we see our commander on the battlefield, dealing with the complex issues alongside us, when they are an approachable human in real life, we are motivated and rise to an otherwise impossible challenge. Courage and commitment create a deep trust with people who will rise to the occasion, no matter their background, ages, experience or natural talents. Some iconic examples include:

3. When no one stands with you, YOU stand with you: Many people have taken unassigned leadership roles to organized projects that support the people of Ukraine.

I do not have the political intellect to gauge wartime effectiveness of the actions described above. Yet, having spent 15+ years on enterprise-wide innovation and digital transformation initiatives with 40+ leaders, I have learned to recognize and appreciate true leadership during the times of adversity. True leadership is evident in the instances above. Zelenskyy appears to be a real-life underdog leader, fighting to protect his country's past, present and future.

Leaders tend to have an ample supply of influence, authority and power. These should be used wisely to enable a responsible future, while also knowing when to take a stand.

Note: If you are looking for ways to support those impacted by the Ukraine-Russia war, this link has the information about international and local organizations offering support. It also has a list of reliable information sources from the humans on the ground.

About Gunjan