Managers get the innovation they deserve


Investment in innovation is likely to be wasteful unless the agenda to innovate is driven from the very top of the organisation, according to new research.

Writing in the latest edition of the Open University Business School's Open Business magazine, Professor John Storey and Professor Graeme Salaman argue that investments to encourage innovation will have minimal impact unless there is more effective understanding as to why firms fail to innovate.

They draw on a three-year research programme to show that it is the attitudes and behaviours of the most senior teams of managers that set the agenda for innovation in organisations.

“While the benefits of innovation are clear, the incidence of innovation remains unacceptably low," they say.

"CEOs frequently claim innovation as a strategic priority and yet their businesses often fail to achieve it. What the literature prescribes and what most firms do about innovation are miles apart.”

The research focused on the views and theories of researchers and senior managers in innovation-focused organisations.

It found that while boards stressed the value of innovation, this masked differences in how innovation was defined and valued in reality, and in everyday business behaviour.

“Clarity and consensus about the direction and strategy of the organisation are among the most important factors in encouraging innovation," Storey and Salaman argue.

"The starting point for a successful innovating organisation is to adopt a wide-ranging and ambitious definition of innovation and to be genuinely committed to achieving it.”

Te research also highlights the tension that exists between innovation and existing organisational strengths and structures.

When innovation was seen by senior managers as a threat, they designed procedures to regulate it. But as Storey and Salaman point out, radical forms of innovation require that senior managers are willing to question and critique the existing order.

“When organisations fail to innovate effectively, it isn’t accidental. Often it is because senior players achieve what they want – to block serious innovations that will threaten existing business models and arrangements.

"Organisations actually get the sort and level of innovation they deserve and want. You can’t maintain the status quo and innovate.”

Storey and Salaman conclude that the answer to an organisation’s innovation difficulties often rests within an organisation itself. But encouraging and surfacing these views requires skill and a robust and tested methodology.

"Where management teams can be brought to acknowledge and make transparent their competing beliefs, perceptions and expectations concerning innovation, they can put the findings to practical use.”

Managers of Innovation: Insights into Making Innovation Happen by Prof John Storey and Prof Graeme Salaman is published by Blackwell (2005).