Executive sponsors: The underestimated stakeholder in internal innovation

Executive sponsors: The underestimated stakeholder in internal innovation

By Paul Winters

Introducing an internal startup or innovation team is part art and part science. One thing is for certain: if you are in a bureaucratic organisation, you need an executive sponsor – acting as a stakeholder – to have your back. Executive sponsorship and involvement are not new ideas. Ensuring senior management involvement in the security area is taught to all CISSP students.

Failing to engage with senior management stakeholders opens you to huge risks. Number one is not being able to get products shipped. This is a risk if your innovation team doesn’t follow existing enterprise IT processes, procedures and policies. Innovation teams regularly come up against change management, security, networking and operations issues. Unless you have senior management exemptions and influence, you won't ever see your product shipped. The second potential issue is motivating other teams. How can you ensure they value the project, and your requests for collaboration don’t fall on deaf ears?

Engagement with senior management provides various advantages. You have someone with power in management meetings, which is important when the inevitable questions and scrutiny arises. You also have someone who can sell the results to the rest of the enterprise. Additionally, they can provide budget and time away from business-as-usual tasks.

Engaging senior management and finding an executive sponsor should happen early and often. Selling the vision is essential. Talk to executives and senior management about what they stand to gain. I find business executives are most excited about quickly and safely getting prototypes of ideas out to the market. This speed-to-market allows the line-of-business to test the market and determine market fit. The line-of-business can then increase the commitment or ditch the idea. Provide a business case that shows the difference between risk and uncertainty.

Finding and maintaining an executive sponsor and building support within senior management is essential for internal innovation. Without this person, it is hard to navigate restrictive policies and get ideas into production. With them, you have support, budget and a salesperson.


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Paul Winters is a Director at Syntegrity Solutions, a specialist IT consultancy that focuses on digital innovation enablement. He has over 10 years experience in the IT industry and has consulted on APIs, integration and security to enterprises including top-tier banks and insurers.

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