Should Individuals be More Accountable for Innovation?
May 21, 2015
Alex Short
4 minutes

In a business, who is responsible for ensuring that innovation takes place? All too often we see businesses fall by the wayside because they have not had any significant growth and because there has been a lack of new products. In this post I talk about individuals being held responsible for innovation.

Should business leaders be more worried about the amount of innovation that their own teams and their external stakeholders are bringing to the business? Are your employees doing what is expected of them? Are they pursuing every opportunity to develop new business ideas?

We all know that markets are far more competitive than they have ever been in the past. This is because, due to the onset of the world wide web and the emergence of new developing markets, it is easier than ever to set up a business. The high frequency of new start-ups, coupled with increasingly competitive business   environments, has meant that the average lifespan of a business is far shorter than before. But why else are companies not surviving for as long?

A company’s survival is linked to innovation. Increasing a company’s lifespan comes down to innovation – how well and how efficiently a business can develop a new product or service that the market wants. Innovation is the key to future success. However, we see many business leaders shy away from it for a number of reasons:

  • They concentrate on other projects
  • They are creatures of habit
  • They may be scared of change
  • There is too much emphasis on short-term gains
  • They do not think that they have the right skill-set to carry innovation forward


Here is a quote from the article, “P&G’s Innovation Culture”:

Scalability is critical at a company the size of Procter & Gamble. If we can’t scale our processes, they don’t have much value for us. In fact, scalability is often the justification for our existence as a multinational, diversified company. Our innovation practices are thus designed for deliberate learning, across all our functions, product categories, and geographic locations. Once people understand a particular process, they can replicate it and train others. It soon becomes a part of normal decision making.

P&G had not treated innovation as scalable in the past. We had always invested a great deal in research and development. When I became CEO, we had about 8,000 R&D people and roughly 4,000 engineers, all working on innovation. But we had not integrated these innovation programs with our business strategy, planning, or budgeting process well enough. At least 85 percent of the people in our organization thought they weren’t working on innovation. They were somewhere else: in line management, marketing, operations, sales, or administration. We had to redefine our social system to get everybody into the innovation game.

Today, all P&G employees are expected to understand the role they play in innovation. Even when you’re operating, you’re always innovating — you’re making the cycles shorter, or developing new commercial ideas, or working on new business models. And all innovation is connected to the business strategy.

P&G’s Innovation Culture, A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan

Innovation has to be a way of life. For it to be a success, businesses need to make it part of their DNA, engraining it into the mindsets of every individual in the company.

But when innovation does not seem to be working, who is accountable? You as a business leader or your team? As far as I can make out, many companies do not make individuals responsible for coming up with innovation. Why is this? Employees are held responsible for a wide range of activities such as cost saving and meeting new business targets, so why are they not targeted on innovation? Should responsibility for innovation be left solely to the innovation and R&D team, or employees as a whole?

If businesses do not emphasize the negative consequences of a lack of innovation, then individuals will continue to not worry and will satisfy other areas of the business that they are judged on. Employees will only focus on innovation when all other projects and targets are met – this is a fact of life. Why do something you will not receive credit for when you could carry out tasks that will help with your promotion.

So let’s make innovation the responsibility of all individuals within a business, in a similar way that we have made sales and cost management their responsibility. I am not saying that if someone comes up with a rubbish idea we should punish them, as The Secret to Enterprise Innovation is Failure or at least smart failure. What I am saying however, is that employees should be judged on how many new ideas they bring to the table whether they are good, bad or ugly. These ideas can be their own or can be collaborations with their supplier base. What matters to you is that ideas for future growth are materializing.

If you begin to hold individuals accountable for their actions and behaviour then the whole ethos around innovation will change. At last businesses will not constantly look to cost savings as a way to increase profit.

Businesses that are successful innovators have educated their workforce to tackle problems with two things in mind – cost saving and the question of what else can be developed, how can we create a new service/product manufacturing process?

On the whole, employees never get fired if they take the safe option. For example, if an employee chooses a production method that has been used for years and it then fails, they are unlikely to be reprimanded. But if they dared to try something new and it went wrong, fingers would be pointed.

What I am trying to say is COME ON enterprises, you need to make your entire workforce responsible for innovation. You need to make your employees feel comfortable about innovation because if you do not then you will WITHER AND DIE…

No one has ever been fired for not innovating, but perhaps now they should be!

If you are also interested in rating your company’s supplier innovation value chain then please click below.

Download the Supplier Innovation Assessment

Alex Short is Founder of Old St Labs he is passionate about building the next generation of business software. He is recognised as one of procurements thought leaders.
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