Four Reasons your Disruptive Talent Will Fail and What to Do About It

Michelle Moore Blog

As organizations look for ways to drive innovation to either defend against competitive threats or drive their growth strategy, many are turning to a new type of talent to fuel their success – Disruptive Talent.

Disruptive Talent are people who have the ability to spot opportunities to do things in radically different ways, can implement ideas quickly and successfully to deliver business value, all while working effectively within the constraints of a more traditional organizational structure .

The challenge is that while organizations can use assessments in the recruitment & selection process to find the right disruptive talent (i.e., those who have all the competencies required to succeed), often issues like lack of clear vision, misalignment of (1) stakeholders, and (2) organizational culture, and insufficient support for the innovator get in the way of their success.

To overcome the many challenges that result from advancing innovation, organizations need to clearly understand the potential problems, and take action to minimize the risks.

Challenge 1: Lack of Clear Innovation Vision and Strategy

True innovation is still relatively immature in most organizations (i.e., most operate at an ad-hoc and isolated level versus one where innovation has been adopted enterprise-wide and is considered a measured and optimized business capability).  As a result many businesses lack a clearly articulated and widely understood and supported innovation vision and strategy. In many cases different functions within an organization will view innovation and its necessity to either drive growth or avoid disruption through different lenses. 

As a result when Disruptive Talent is brought in to drive innovation, either within the traditional boundaries of an organization or through an innovation hub on the side, they face either indifference and/or resistance from many key stakeholders due to misalignment of goals.  This can be frustrating and contribute towards slower progress towards innovation goals.

Before bringing Disruptive Talent into an organization, senior leaders need to clearly define an enterprise-wide vision and strategy for innovation.  That vision and strategy needs to be widely and consistently communicated, and funding put in place to ensure success.

Challenge 2: Lack of Buy-In to Innovation

Even if a clear innovation vision and strategy have been defined, Disruptive Talent can still run into issues if key stakeholders don’t buy into the need for innovation. Many senior leaders still lack an in-depth understanding of how technology is disrupting their (1) industry and (2) customer and employee expectations, which can lead to a resistance to radical change/innovation. 

This lack of support for innovation can be further amplified if key stakeholders also lack an understanding of how innovation success is measured.  Often skeptics are quick to assume innovation has failed if results are not immediate, or if ideas are killed. This can create even bigger obstacles for Disruptive Talent.
To overcome lack of commitment and buy-in, leaders need to clearly articulate the benefits of innovation, and the risks of not making it a priority.  Success measures should also be in place that clearly identify when and how innovation success will be measured.

Challenge 3: Corporate Culture

Organizational culture is probably the most complex challenge to overcome, as a number of different elements work together to create an environment that is conducive for innovation and Disruptive Talent to succeed.

For example, organizations need effective communication, creativity, fast decision making, productive internal and external collaboration, and agility.  Additionally, they need processes in place to support change management, risk management and knowledge management (see Figure 1: Building an Innovative Culture).  When elements are missing innovation will be slow and likely unsuccessful.  

Poor performance across these different capabilities can in some cases be the result of a lack of organizational or personal ability (i.e., people don’t know how to do these things).  In other cases poor performance can be the result of low or no motivation/willingness to build or strengthen one or more of these critical elements.

To build strong capabilities, there needs to first be buy-in to the importance of these elements which contribute to creating a culture that supports innovation. There then needs to be defined and consistently applied processes and tools/technology to support each critical practice. For example, for cross-functional collaboration to be effective, people need opportunities to work on projects, and processes and tools to share ideas and collaborate in an efficient and effective way.

Challenge 4: Lack of Personal Support for Disruptive Talent

Finally, in order for Disruptive Talent to be engaged and successful, proper support needs to be in place for this new type of high potential talent (see Figure 2: Supporting Disruptive Talent).  The Disruptor needs to feel a connection to the organization, and must be able to quickly navigate and overcome any unforeseen challenges or obstacles. They also need to be able to collaborate and create with other Disruptors on a regular basis.

At a minimum, in addition to executive sponsorship, a Disruptor needs a manager who can clear the path for them, and act as a connector to help the innovator integrate into more traditional teams.  The manager must be able to provide the Disruptor with the autonomy they need to achieve their goals, while providing clear and constructive feedback along the way. 

Additionally, as roadblocks can often be the result of organizational politics, hierarchy or process, Disruptors need access to peer mentors who understand both the formal and informal organization. 

The mentors need to be able to offer advice about how to navigate roadblocks in a way that: (1) maintains and/or strengthens important relationships and (2) achieves desired outcomes in a manner that is consistent with corporate values. Without access to these savvy advisors, Disruptive Talent can easily and quickly find themselves without the support they need to achieve their mandate.

When Disruptive Talent is brought in at an executive level, they can also benefit from working with a professional coach.  As is it common for Disruptors to feel like they don’t fit, they can benefit from professional support to reframe their thinking and challenge them to not just adapt to their new environment, but rather find creative ways to successfully fulfill their mandate.

Maximizing the Return on your Disruptive Talent – 10 Actions You Can Take:

Innovation is no longer an option. It is now critical to the long-term viability of every organization. Although a number of challenges exist, organizations can take some key steps to improve the return on the investment they have to make in Disruptive Talent by:

  1. Helping business leaders learn more about technology, and technology leaders learn more about business.
  2. Creating and relentlessly communicating a clear vision for innovation and its supporting strategy.
  3. Appointing an executive sponsor and ensuring funding for innovation is in place.
  4. Aligning key stakeholders at all levels through effective and continuous communication and involvement.
  5. Identifying and implementing a defined and accelerated process for innovation that includes identification of decisions makers, risk management, and governance and measurement for each step.
  6. Teaching the entire organization how to be more creative.
  7. Aligning rewards and recognition at all levels of the organizations to support innovation through calculated and intelligent risk-taking, collaboration, and agility.
  8. Leveraging technology to support effective two-way communication and collaboration.
  9. Capturing lessons learned from innovation successes and challenges, and applying those key learnings to future innovation projects.
  10. Ensuring that Disruptive Talent have access to peer mentors and/or professional coaches to successfully navigate roadblocks. 

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