Implementing Your Growth Zone Plan Step 3: Using a Board of Directors to Avoid Killing Promising Programs

board of directors

A recent study puts the innovation success rate in more than half of large enterprises at 25 percent.  Today, I’d like to share one of the major ways to ensure your organization does much better than that.

This is the third in a five-post series on how to build a cross-functional team that delivers.  If you missed the previous posts in this series, you can find the first one here.   Also, if you are reading this on LI or Twitter, you are reading only one third of a monthly newsletter filled with useful advice for innovators.  If you’d like to receive the full newsletter, please sign up in the orange box to the right.

The reality of life in a modern organization is that the senior leadership team is both extremely busy and spread very thin.  The executive VP rises early, takes her calls on the way to work, puts in a day in the office (with lines of meetings outside the door)  and then calls another time zone on the way home.

Contrast this with the arc of growth initiatives within many firms.  Once a great hypothesis is identified, a high-quality, cross-functional team is established and work begins.  Typically a single sponsor is identified, and work progresses until quarterly review time, when the project becomes one of the slides in a lengthy “deck” that is reviewed deep in the agenda with the management board – after all of the other major operational issues of the existing business are exhaustively discussed.  By then the capacity of the team to have a good dialogue around an emerging growth area is very low.

When the team has a promising breakthrough and a commercial contract is in the offing, a “drop in” meeting is called with key functional leadership, and for the first time, the operations team and the CFO really hear that they need to accept a contract of this new product or service – with predictable results.  The ops team has an endless list of unanswered questions, and the contract is deferred or killed on the spot.  Another promising idea pushed to the back of the line.

The key to avoiding this is realizing that every significant growth team in your firm needs two teams.  This includes your hands-on, cross-functional team and what I call the “mini” board of directors.

If you have been using the steps I have outlined in this series, you already have a great team leader and executive sponsor.  The next key piece is to form the mini board of directors that will keep the program attached to the larger agenda of the firm – much like a dive boat keeps oxygen flowing to the divers doing the work below.

The mini board needs to be formed at the same time the cross functional team is formed and chartered and should include the executive sponsor, the team leader, and key functional executives who have the gravitas to make real resource decisions for the areas that the cross-functional team is affecting.  Since these are seriously busy and impactful leaders, the key is to use their time sparingly and very effectively.  The mini board of directors structure assures that the team has frequent, relevant communication with the senior leaders in the firm to assure that there is synchronization of scope, cadence and budget for the growth team.

I first became aware of this when working with larger cross business opportunities as an innovation champion based in the CTO’s office of a Fortune 100 firm.  After having several promising ideas put on the “technology shelf,” we retooled our approach to include the senior leaders of the operational team that would be the “landing zone” for the innovation.  This pushed our success rate up and led to faster time to adoption, and more impact.

To recap, these are the three key things for your mini BOD:

  1. The mini board is set up by the executive sponsor of the project and includes senior leaders with true budget and decision making authority for those areas of the business model that are affected by the the team’s work. This means if the work affects the factory and the customer channel, leaders from production, marketing and sales need to be there.
  2. The operating rules are straightforward for the mini BOD meetings.  The meetings need to be short, regular and highly efficient.  A typical BOD session will be about 45 minutes, and occur about every four to six weeks.  To make the meetings efficient, a pre-read is sent a minimum of 5 days ahead and includes the questions to be discussed and decided upon on the front page of the document.
  3. No empty seats – every function must be present or the meeting is rescheduled.  This is where the gravitas of the senior sponsor is key.  One of the main reasons programs stall is the “pocket veto.”  This occurs when yes is said in the hallway, but not made part of the meeting record – and later “amnesia” kicks in and the growth team stalls.

I would like to hear about your experiences, both good and bad, keeping operational leadership involved with the sponsorship of innovation programs.  Please feel free to drop me an email or tweet me.

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