Helping to Build a Culture of Innovation: Utilizing the “Whip”

Why Your Organization Needs a “Whip” to Help Build a Widespread Innovation Culture

Creating Your Organization's Innovation ProcessThe innovation book Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival establishes a foundation of 10 Key Imperatives intended to help everyone from beginners to seasoned innovators. These 10 simple and practical steps create a structured, repeatable innovation process to Create and Sustain Innovation in order to Innovate and Thrive in an intensely competitive marketplace. Building upon this fundamental framework, the newly published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation shows how to permanently implement a culture of innovation in one’s work environment and break down the barriers to successful innovation implementation.

As discussed in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, “Innovation—which is not itself an object, but rather a key tool used to reach strategic objectives—can only succeed if the CEO can create a delicate chemistry that results in a ‘top-down, bottom-up’ culture of innovation rich with initiatives, engagement, and participation that includes participants at all levels of the organization.”[1]

As an organization builds its top-down, bottom-up structure, a whip is surely needed.

So What’s a Whip?

Whips are the “innovation enforcers” within an organization. Within this context, the term whip is borrowed from politics—where a whip is an official whose primary purpose is to ensure party discipline in legislature. The whips are a political party’s enforcers who both ensure that party members vote in accordance with official party policy and that a party’s elected representatives are actually in attendance when important votes are taken. The etymology of the term whip also extends back to the hunting term “whipping in” or “whip in”—which involves using a hunting whip to keep hounds from wandering away from the pack.

Why Your Organization Needs a Whip

To permanently implement a successful culture of innovation, your organization is going to need a whip (or even several whips, depending on the size of your organization) to stay on track. On the innovation journey from “best intentions” to “implementation”, distractions and deterrents are overabundant, and innovation has many places to lose its way. As discussed in a McKinsey study on innovation, 35 percent of responding executives report having ten or fewer full-time employees dedicated to innovation.[2]

Why is this number so low, especially if top C-level executives say innovation is a top priority? As discussed in Robert’s Rules of Innovation II, Nicolas Bry, the innovation-oriented president of Orange (the mobile carrier of France Telecom), believes that even “the whip” needs a whip. This is so because, as Bry says, “Often, the CEO commits to the plan, selects the leader to lead the strategic experiment, and asks a member of the senior corporate staff to shepherd it. And then, ‘the CEO makes a big mistake: the CEO moves on to other matters.’”[3]

According to noted innovation-thinker, bestselling author, and business professor Vijay Govindarajan, “Organizations are almost always more powerful than people. Further, corporations serious about building a capacity for strategic innovation cannot simply hope that they have a few intrapreneurs somewhere inside that can save the day on their own inspired initiative. They must re-examine how their organizations are constructed. Only through careful redesign can organizations excel at both efficiency and entrepreneurship.”[4]

So what will it take to pave the way to acceptance of a “new world order” within the organization and diminish the fear that a company can feel towards innovation? According to Bry it will take both your whips, through their force of will, and these four key levers[5]:

  1. Detachment of resources coming from the parent company;
  2. Creation of a network of decision makers;
  3. The investment of the parent company; and
  4. A portfolio that reflects shared innovation goals

Innovation enforcers can help whip your organization’s culture of innovation into shape. They are an integral part of an organization’s innovation team and due care should be used to carve out and implement this “whip” role within your organization.

For more information about how to promote and implement innovation at your company, check out the innovation in business books Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival and the recently published Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation.

[1] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p. 59)

[2] Making innovation structures work: McKinsey Global Survey results

[3] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p. 72)

[4] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p. 73)

[5] Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (See p. 73)