Communication is Job 1 of your innovation measurement system

I heard an innovation leader at a Fortune 100 company remark recently, “There are lots of jobless innovation managers out there who will tell you—’if I knew then what I know now, I would have communicated better.’”

I hadn’t thought of it quite that starkly before, but I have always thought communication is overlooked as a skill for innovation managers—to the detriment of both the profession and the performance of corporate innovation functions. The rise in popularity of design thinking and its emphasis on storytelling has shifted this a little. But 9 times out of 10 when I hit the communications section of the proposal or presentation or training, I see people’s eyes glaze over.

My theory is that people think communication is a basic skill and that they have it, they’re doing it, they’re fine at it, get to the technical stuff please! If you have a better theory, I want to hear it! Email me at adrienne [at] commodoreinnovation.co. In the meantime, here’s my case for why it’s so important in the context of innovation measurement, and what to keep in mind as you set up (or tune up) your innovation measurement system to make sure effective communication is built in.

Effective communication is critical to your success as an innovation manager in a large organization.

Innovation can be threatening to the status quo in an established company. Additionally, innovation projects change hands often in large organizations—between teams and to other functions.

For both of these reasons, communication with diverse audiences has to be a core purpose of innovation measurement systems. And the “diverse audiences” is critical—as an innovation practitioner, you need to be fluent in the “first language” of your respective stakeholders, whether that means talking financials or using visuals to communicate complex concepts.

Fail to communicate well about an important innovation initiative and you risk activation of the corporate “antibodies” that tend to attack the new and uncertain. You may jeopardize a successful transition at the end of your project. Plus, you need to communicate effectively just to get the expertise and ongoing support (financial and otherwise) you need to execute.

Keep these principles in mind as you plan your measurement system.

Some fundamentals at the project level:

  • Know the “customers” of your measurement system. Just like you would for a new product/service concept, you need to deeply understand your “customer,” in this case your team, leadership, and other constituents to understand their priorities for your project, and therefore what should be measured.
  • Engage your project team in the creation of your measurement system. Your team’s success will be judged according to the metrics you define. They’re more likely to buy into the measurement approach if they have been involved in its design.
  • Keep in mind the division of responsibility. Don’t misconstrue the guidance to engage your constituents as an instruction to build the measurement system to their specifications. Chances are you know more about the nuts and bolts of innovation than many of your constituents. Make sure you have the information you need, too, to drive exceptional results and have high-quality conversations with constituents.
  • Target your constituents with the communication method and format that’s best for them. Your constituents have different priorities and preferences related to your project. Make sure you choose methods (e.g., reports, presentations) and formats (e.g., financial, visual) that speak constituents’ ”first language” and maximize the chances your messages are received.

Need more specifics on the “how”? Go here to download our guide to Measuring Your Innovation Project.