Maintaining C-Suite Support: The Four Key Questions

By Alex Slawsby |  April 10, 2020

At this chaotic and uncertain moment, the priorities of your C-Suite are changing fast. In many organizations, the innovation imperative has never been stronger — although the imperative may now be to sustain the core business, solve “five alarm fire” problems, and live to innovate another day, rather than working on long-term projects that may drive future growth.

Alex Slawsby, Senior Researcher, InnoLead; Former Director of Innovation, Embraer

For example:

  • Product innovation must close core product gaps and create value-adding features. 

  • Process innovation must reduce cost, increase agility, and improve customer satisfaction.

  • Business model innovation must generate new revenue from unexpected sources. 

  • Talent innovation must keep a newly-distributed workforce together.

  • Regulatory innovation must rush essential new solutions to market, or pursue opportunities that didn’t exist yesterday.

For many innovation teams, this is a chance to create significant short-term value for business unit leaders who may become your long-term allies. Unfortunately, when it comes to cutting costs, it is all too easy for senior executives to simply put innovation teams and their budgets on the chopping block.

It is therefore essential that innovators proactively make strong, well-reasoned cases for how their teams can continue to create value, even if their original mission is now on hold. To determine the best path forward, there are four key questions that you should seek to answer right now…

Confirm Facts and Determine Clear Implications

  1. What do I know for certain about our (shifting) innovation priorities?

    • Communicated directly to me? Extracted from what I’ve heard?

    • Describing new organizational/leadership innovation jobs-to-be-done?

Develop New Innovation Team “Solutions” to Achieve Newly Desired Outcomes

  1. What do I believe we can do to create value in light of those new priorities?

    • Outcomes now most important? Capitalize and grow, or protect and defend?

    • Capabilities that we can reposition to achieve those outcomes?

Consider Carefully how to Reduce Path-Forward Risk

  1. What do I need to learn to make sure that I make well-received recommendations?

    • Critical assumptions within my analysis? Behind my recommendations?

    • Conversations or research that can validate those assumptions?

Proactively and Personally Engage, Educate, and Enroll Key Stakeholders

  1. What do I need to do to maximize my chances of success?

    • Key stakeholder “customers” and their individual jobs-to-be-done?

    • Individual approaches (e.g. appeal to heart, mind) that will satisfy those jobs?

Phrased differently, these are the same questions that innovation teams ask and answer each day as they seek to create new growth: What do we know for certain about our target customers and their jobs-to-be-done? What is the optimal solution we should develop and commercialize? What key assumptions must prove true for us to be successful? How can we best proceed to win over both the market and our internal leaders? 

But the current context, winning over those internal leaders is ultimately all that matters. And those leaders are now no longer down the hall, or dine in the cafeteria, where you can catch them for an impromptu chat. As the last question highlights, it’s particularly important to therefore think creatively about how to reach them — at home — in a way that will secure their support. A few ideas might include pre-recorded videos that bring customer pain points to life; digital solutions that can be demonstrated and even tested online or through a webconference; or live online focus groups that senior leaders can observe.   

Doing the work of innovation inside an established organization has never been easy. But it has never been more necessary than it is today. By asking the right questions and making the right moves, you’re helping your organization chart a course through churning waters, seize the opportunities that do exist, and deliver for customers.