Peer advice: How to start and sustain a network of innovation champions

We convened a call recently, at the request of one of our subscribers, to discuss what are often called “innovation champion” or “innovation catalyst” networks. In global organizations, these networks can help a central innovation team:

  •  Promote the innovation agenda, including events and competitions
  •  Train others in innovation methodologies and tools, like design thinking or lean startup
  •  Work with customers or business partners to create new products and services
  •  Scout market trends, disruptive startups, or otherwise gather market intelligence.

Our call participants came from Fortune 500 companies in energy, professional services, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, consumer electronics, and telecommunications, as well as one government agency and one large urban hospital. To encourage maximum sharing, we said we’d leave their company names out of this write-up.

In sharing what their companies are doing, they said there are six main questions that must be answered in creating a champions network:

  1. What is the champion’s role?
  2. How will you recruit or find champions?
  3. How will you train them and keep them connected with each other and the central innovation group?
  4. What are the benefits to them? How are they rewarded?
  5. How will you measure or otherwise share the impact the network has?
  6. How will you sustain the program over time?

Below are some of the ways a handful of companies that have already created networks of champions have answered those questions. If you’ve taken a different approach, please drop us an e-mail (we’ll keep your name and company name anonymous), or post a comment below (which will not be anonymous.)

What is the champion’s role?

At a global telecom company: “We have a team of 50 innovation champions. When we founded the program, we realized that we wanted to embed innovation into the entire culture. We have intentionally kept our central innovation team small, and built the ability to execute the innovation deliverables on the Champion Program. …In the past year we actually recognized that there are two different roles within our organization. One is more customer-focused, using design thinking to run innovation workshops and do thought leadership. The other is an innovation agent, which is more focused on delivering innovation projects.”

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