The 9 People You’ll Meet as a Corporate Innovator

By Scott Kirsner |  December 10, 2020

Whatever your title, when you do innovation-related work, you need good relationships up and down the org chart.

With that in mind, we put together this guide to the nine people corporate innovators tend to interact with most: what motivates them, what aggravates them, the buzzwords that they can’t resist using, and how you can get them on board with your agenda.

We tried to offer some real insights into how people in these roles tick — though there are some light-hearted swipes to keep things from getting too serious. Any resemblance to real people in your organization is completely coincidental.


Motivated by: Beating the Street’s expectations for earnings growth. Hitting targets for bonus comp. Magazine covers. Not getting fired.

Aggravated by: Rival launching a high-profile product that they back-burnered or canceled.

Overused buzzword: “Alignment”

How do you get them on board? Paint a clear picture of the growth potential. Tie into an overarching strategic theme. Or tap into their FOMO: “Did you see what our biggest competitor just press released?”


Motivated by: Efficient capital allocation models. Having successful projects to talk about on conference calls with Wall Street analysts. 

Aggravated by: Anything that can’t be quantified.

Overused buzzword: “EBITDA.”

How do you get them on board? Proposing low-cost, low-risk experiments. Sound financial analysis. Show how innovation can drive profit margins and loyalty, or help the company expand into new markets.


Motivated by: Growing market share. Positive reviews of the latest ad campaign. Showing up on Ad Age’s “Marketers of the Year” list.

Aggravated by: Negative buzz on social media. 

Overused buzzword: “Brand halo.”

How do you get them on board? Leverage their team’s insight into trends and new customer dynamics. Get them new products, features, and services they can market — and innovation success stories that can contribute to your company’s Net Promoter Score or that ever-important brand halo.

The SVP of Sales

Motivated by:  Beating this quarter’s sales targets. Planning the first post-pandemic sales incentive trip. Bali? Bermuda?

Aggravated by: New offerings that are different and challenging to explain to customers. Anything that distracts them from hitting the numbers.

Overused buzzword: “Tip of the spear.”

How do you get them on board? Show that actual customers want what you’re creating. Involve them in finding customers to run beta tests with. Find ways to let them get credit for growth and wins, even if a product isn’t sold the traditional way, or doesn’t have yesterday’s commissions.

The Head of HR

Motivated by:  “Best Places to Work” awards. Increasing diversity. Retaining top talent and keeping the company’s Glassdoor reviews respectable.

Aggravated by:  People who complain the company’s recruiting process is too slow and bureaucratic for today’s world — and try to do end-runs around it.

Overused buzzword: “Talent magnet.”

How do you get them on board? Demonstrate your ability to bring in new kinds of talent the organization needs. Focus on increasing the diversity of your team. Tie your projects that seek to build new innovation capabilities into their training and development efforts.

The Business Unit President

Motivated by: Growin’ revenues and cuttin’ costs.

Aggravated by: Anything that adds overhead.

Overused buzzword: “Resource allocation.” 

How do you get them on board? Ask for their involvement and advice as you’re building and testing things. Make sure at least some of your portfolio delivers near-term value to them (innovating to help the core or streamline operations). And it never hurts to subtly remind them that the CEO would like to see your innovations eventually make it out into the market with their help…

The Head of Corporate Development/M&A

Motivated by: Finding compelling deal opportunities that really move the needle. Investing in startups alongside VC firms like Andreessen and Kleiner.

Aggravated by: Anyone who talks about how poorly that last acquisition fared.

Overused buzzword: “Synergies.”

How do you get them on board? Give them visibility into the startups you’re encountering and working with. Find ways to collaborate with startups they may have already invested in. 

The Middle Manager

Motivated by: Hitting the numbers through operational excellence and discipline.

Aggravated by: Distractions from their core responsibilities — especially innovations that over-promise and under-deliver.

Overused buzzword: “The necessary approvals.”

How do you get them on board? This may be the toughest question in corporate innovation. Sometimes, you may need to stay out of their hair, avoid attracting their attention, and not make their lives more difficult. Sometimes, you may need to seek their input and support on project roll-out plans, so they feel included. The person who figures out the sure-fire plan for getting middle managers on board deserves a Nobel Prize.

The Front-Line Employee

Motivated by: Solving problems, reducing pointless work, and seeing their ideas taken seriously.

Aggravated by:  No one wanting to hear what the customer actually does, or says about the product.

Overused buzzword: “Am I really needed in that meeting?”

How do you get them on board? Demonstrate that you actually value their ideas — and will resource and launch some of them. Help them connect with and get seen by senior leadership. Give them ways to move up the ladder.

What key leaders did we miss? What else would you add? Post a comment below…

(Thanks to Dan SeewaldPaul Campbell, and Alex Slawsby for their input.)