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Position Innovation Manager: 4 important factors

Systematizing and increasing innovation success requires the integration of innovation management and the employees responsible for it. The question is, where is the position of an innovation manager best integrated? And this is surprisingly critical to success.

4 important factors for innovation managers

Innovation is a complex topic that occupies many departments in an organization. But which department is commissioned or where is it integrated in order to achieve the maximum effect?

To find the right answer, you have to dive deeper, because many factors play a role. If all of them are taken into account, innovation management can have an enormous impact.

On which factors does the decision depend?

The decision depends on many different influences, the most important of which are:

  1. What is the task of innovation management?
  2. What is the company's innovation focus?
  3. What does an innovation manager need?
  4. Which individual organisational characteristics need to be taken into account? 

1. Role of the Innovation Manager

The task of the Innovation Manager can be seen as an enabler or an innovator.

If it is an enabler, it takes care of the framework conditions to promote innovation in the company and of measures that qualitatively and quantitatively increase the outcome of innovation. These include above all measures in the context of innovation systems such as

  • Development of the innovation strategy
  • Collection of ideas (creativity techniques)
  • Introduction and optimization of the innovation process
  • Shaping the culture of innovation

If the task is to identify innovations and drive them to success, innovation management has the role of innovator and project manager.

Whether enabler or innovator makes a difference in the content of the task, as does the innovation focus described below:

2. Innovation focus

This plays a decisive role in the position of the Innovation Manager in the organizational structure. 

The first question is the subject of innovation:

  • product
  • service
  • business plan
  • Production processes and technologies
  • organization

The second question is the ignition of innovation:

  • Market driven (market-pull)
  • Technology-driven (technology-push)

If, for example, the focus is on products that are primarily based on new technologies, the position of the Innovation Manager should be docked closer to technology. If feedback from the market is decisive for the development of new products, innovation management should be close to sales.

The task of innovation and the focus on innovation are therefore factors of content. The aim is to dock where the highest synergies can be achieved in terms of subject matter and process technology (e.g. with regard to interfaces, decisions).

3. Features of an Innovation Manager

Among other things, the success of innovation management depends very much on people. Ergo, from the quality of the innovation team itself. The following skills are required:

  • Innovation competence, e.g. methodological competence and project management
  • Good understanding of the business, its logic and organisation
  • Broad knowledge of products and the underlying technologies, the depth depends on the specific task
  • Social competence.

One of the most important competences is social issues. Due to the novelty and the associated changes, innovations can create uncertainties, resistance, etc. in organizations. And because innovation affects the entire organization and requires support for all interfaces, soft skills play a major role. For example, the innovation manager must

  • Communicate, convince and inspire well
  • Ability to think empathetically, interdisciplinary and entrepreneurially
  • Be well connected
  • And he needs a good standing and a high acceptance in the organization

The importance of social competence is shown by the fact that innovation managers are often selected for internal appointments not on the basis of technical competence but on the basis of their social skills.

This factor influences the selection of the people themselves, but also the position in the organization. The parent department should be chosen according to the competencies critical to success. For example:

  • If you expect a lot of resistance to innovations, the position of the Innovation Manager should be at the top.
  • If it requires a lot of technical know-how, it should be close to the technology.

4. Individual characteristics of the organisation

There is no universal solution recipe for hanging up Innovation Management. Because individual characteristics of an organisation also play an important role. When making a decision, for example, you should consider the following:

  • Who is the process owner for innovation management and the innovation process?
  • Where are the most important internal stakeholders for innovation activities? It is about distributing key roles in the innovation process (sales, R&D, marketing)
  • Where are innovation management activities? Every organisation already carries out innovation activities - albeit unconsciously. These should also be taken into account in the decision or a solution for integration should be found.
  • Where can synergies be generated with other responsibilities, especially to avoid redundancies? For example, if there is an organizational development or a business development that has similar orders.
  • What is the leadership strength in the potential departments? For example, if the R&D manager is already very involved in innovation management agendas, this must also be taken into account when making decisions.

Which possibilities for organizational integration are there?

Depending on the size of the company and the scope of the Innovation Management tasks, it is integrated into the organization as a

  • Job Enlargement with for example Quality, HR, Research & Development, Product Management or Idea Management. What is critical here is that the person has sufficient time for innovation management.
  • department, of course only if more than one employee.

Possible departments for organizational integration are

  • sales
  • product management
  • marketing
  • Research & Development
  • Business Development and Strategy
  • quality
  • manufacture
  • HR and organizational development
  • idea management

pros and cons

  • Sales-related departments have the disadvantage that they often think in quarters at very short notice and have a strong focus on day-to-day business. As a result, mostly only small incremental innovations come to the surface. These functions are more reactive and less proactive in their search for major innovations.
  • Technology-oriented departments such as R&D are usually too far away from the market again. Product and technology infatuation can also quickly hide customer and market needs or cause overengineering.

Hierarchical integration as high up as possible

As already mentioned, innovation management intervenes broadly in the organization with its activities, it also needs a power of change and penetration in order to gain commitment and support. Of course, this can be achieved with good social skills, but there are also limits. It also requires a kind of "power. Therefore, innovation management should be hierarchically suspended as high up as possible, otherwise there could be many fights against windmills.

Desire of the Innovation Managers themselves

Based on a study, innovation managers prefer organizational integration with the CEO or Business Development.

Every person responsible for innovation management dreams of being anchored in the CEO's organization as a staff unit. This gives you access to all necessary resources, information and possibilities and at the same time you have the necessary right to intervene in the implementation. Moreover, the integration with the CEO is already a sign of a very high management commitment to innovation, which is an absolute top success factor.

Integration in business development or strategy development is also a wish, as the tasks are very similar, resulting in advantageous synergies at this point.

Conclusion: Position Innovation Manager

There are many different ways to embed innovation management into the organization. There are even more factors that have an influence and must be considered in order to find the most optimal solution. Therefore, this decision is also critical for the success of Innovation Management. External support, for example in research activities or prototyping, is particularly important for small innovation teams. There are also formats, such as the Innovation Studio, in which entire innovation projects are outsourced.

Organizational integration must be decided on an individual company basis; there is no such thing as a patent solution. Except one: the CEO.


Daniel Zapfl

With his comprehensive experience in holistic innovation management, Daniel brings valuable insights and best practices from various industries to your innovation project. He boldly and disruptively challenges conventional ways of thinking. As a TRIZ-certified sparring partner, Daniel will support you with creative solution-finding in a reliable and structured manner. More critical than the most discerning customer, he always has an eye on the big picture.

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