Compelling, new, and engaging ideas are not enough- getting the C-suite on your side throughout the journey is essential to succeed with corporate innovation.

But that's easier said than done. Typically, the leaders' first priority is the core business, and for a good reason. For them, investing in innovation ideas equals exposing the company to excessive risk and uncertainty.

So, how do you get leaders to support innovation?

At our recent Innov8rs Unconference, Line Lyst (Chief Entrepreneur at GN) shared five tips you can use to involve the C-suite and succeed with corporate innovation.

1. Invite The C-suite To Set Strategic Direction For Innovation

Setting the stage for leadership innovation support from the very get-go requires mapping out disruption areas and trends and proactively discussing together where to play and where not to from a long-term perspective.

“Leaders are completely focused at the core day to day. It might be difficult for them to see the broader picture. But if you wait until you see real changes in the market, it's too late”.

Spotting market signals and highlighting opportunity spaces for your company is easier if you use the “Disruption Radar” tool. With the Disruption Radar, you can essentially map out all the startups on the rise based on how much funding they have received, in which year, and in which area they operate. Needless to say, the considered areas must be relevant to your company. The results you get lay the foundation for a constructive conversation with the C-suite around the strategic direction for innovation.

2. Involve The C-suite In Selecting Ideas

Innovators can’t simply decide which ideas are worth considering. Instead, they have to make leaders part of ideas selection, thus creating general feelings of involvement, engagement, and ownership.

And Line believes replicating the Dragons’ Den or Shark Tank setups for meetings where ideas are selected is incredibly effective in boosting commitment. In short, in these situations, entrepreneurs (innovators) pitch their ideas to a panel of investors (C-suite) and persuade them to invest in (support and fund) their idea.

Of course, you can select ideas in many different ways. Regardless, don’t involve the C-suite too early when your ideas are still naked. Every idea needs to mature a bit more before it can even arouse leaders' interest (and deserve their time). Only involve the C-suite in the selection phase after validating those ideas and interacting with potential customers.

3. Ask For Less Until You Have ‘Proof In The Pudding’

You need to turn the traditional approval process – asking for a project approval first and then getting funding – upside-down for three fundamental reasons:

  • you don't really know upfront which ideas will be successful
  • it's difficult to estimate how much money you need
  • it's much easier to ask for less

Since innovation brings lots of uncertainty, Line recommends asking the C-suite for less money until you have “proof in the pudding”. At first, your main concern should be showing and demonstrating the potential of your idea, and only then asking (and getting) all the funding you need to turn it into a new business.

“By asking for less, you also reduce uncertainty and risk. And that’s a killer argument because leaders don’t like either of them”.

Nevertheless, don’t forget to clarify that you’re asking for less just because the idea is at an early stage. Those initial funds will only take you to a stage where you can prove that there is a real business opportunity.

4. Engage More With Key Members

You can spend all your time trying to convince everybody in the organization that innovation is amazing. But, in the end, there will always be someone that isn’t as excited as you are. So instead, focus on who’s excited. And the same goes with leaders: it can be tough to convince and get all C-suite members on your side.

To make your life easier, carefully select and involve some supporters or “special guests” and secure that extra aid you’ll surely need when presenting your project to the entire C-suite.

5. Constantly Show Results

Consistently showing results and doing it fast is a big challenge because innovation takes time. Yet sooner or later on your journey, you’ll have to prove your innovation benefits and impacts. But how can you exhibit results when you haven't developed anything yet? The tip here is to carry out smoke tests and go live with your idea in the market during the validation phase or, in any case, within the first few months.

There are thousands of different ways to check if anyone out there in the real world is interested in what you’re working on and gather data on the market potential for your idea. The point here is that if you’re able to collect and show results, nobody can argue against your idea.

However, it's not enough to collect data and show results just at the beginning. Doing this over time and showing progress is paramount to having the C-suite on your side.

In the first stages you will probably communicate a lot and create a lot of excitement. But as soon as you enter the execution mode, people around you – even though you feel you are communicating regularly – might think the innovation has somehow stopped. As such, make sure you continue to communicate your progress regularly to the C-suite and the entire organization.