Who Should ‘Own’ Innovation? Eight Models

By Scott Kirsner |  May 7, 2014

How many ways are there to lead innovation? The new book Innovation Governance: How Top Management Organizes and Mobilizes for Innovation lays out eight major models. Co-author Beebe Nelson, a former director of the International Association of Product Development, shared descriptions of each one — along with survey data about which models executives regard as most (and least) effective.

(The survey was conducted by Beebe’s co-author, Jean-Phillipe Deschamps, a professor emeritus at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. Respondents represented 113 companies operating in a mix of industries in the U.S. and Europe.)

“We aren’t suggesting that any of these models work perfectly, and these are still the early days,” says Nelson. “And the culture and nature of the company makes a tremendous difference. But some of the things you want to see are a CEO who can clarify the objectives — the why, the where, the how much risk we’re going to take — or a cross-functional group of people who can get a very high percentage of the company engaged.”

Eight Models 

1. The Chief Technology Officer or Chief Research Officer is the ultimate innovation champion. This model is most usually employed in companies with a strong technology and/or engineering tradition. The CTO/CRO model focuses on the content of innovation, ie on the promotion of technology-based initiatives, and the CTO or CRO is rarely involved in the non-technical aspects of innovation. (70 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

2. The high-level, cross-functional innovation steering group or board. Members of such steering groups or boards are chosen based on functional responsibilities, and frequently also on their personal interest in and commitment to innovation. Often, a Chief Technology or Chief Research Officer chairs the group, but other members may straddle a couple of levels under the executive committee. (65 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.

3. The top management team (or a subset of that team). In this model – which seems to be the most widely used of them all — members of the C-Suite share the duties of governance, although most often membership is limited to those who are directly involved with innovation, e.g. business leaders plus marketing and R&D. (58 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

4. A complementary two-person team consisting of C-level executives other than the CEO, or a C-level executive with a functional or business unit head. This model is rarely used. (57 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

5. The CEO or, in multi-business corporations, a group/division president. When the CEO is in ultimate charge of innovation, the message that innovation is a top priority for the company is usually loud and clear. Leaders such as Steve Jobs, Edwin Land, A.G. Lafley, and Akio Toyoda have all contributed to the fact that not only their companies, but the whole world, is more engaged in innovation. (56 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

6. A group of innovation champions. This model is more frequently found in a supporting model role than as a primary governance model. Typically, champions are innovation enthusiasts, sometimes referred to as “intrepreneurs.” In some companies their focus will be mostly on content, ie specific projects. In others it will be more on the process side as they work to share innovation practices and experiences. (40 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

7. The dedicated innovation manager or Chief Innovation Officer. The difference between these models and the CTO/CRO model is that responsibility for innovation is entrusted to a single, dedicated manager instead of to a busy CTO/CRO with operational duties. In this model, the manager or officer’s focus is more the process than the content side, and they are usually responsible for tracking innovation success and identifying and sharing best practices. (35 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

8. No one. In some companies, innovation is so much a part of the company’s DNA that everyone feels responsible and so they believe that there is no need for governance. In some other cases, restructuring or reorganizing may have temporarily (or in some cases more permanently) disrupted the usual governance mechanisms. And finally, in companies where innovation is not perceived as particularly important, there may be no one who is in charge. (0 percent said they were relatively satisfied or very satisfied.)

What other models have you encountered? Any theories why some of these models get such low marks? What works best, in your experience? Post a comment below…