Innovating When Your Boss is a Gatekeeper
Updated: Apr 28
I got a great question in class a few weeks ago: "How can I innovate if my boss doesn't let me? My leadership says they want me to innovate, but they never approve anything I propose - even when I have terrific market data and numbers to back it up!" There could be several factors at play here, but often the reason behind a gatekeeper boss is a lack of alignment on what "innovation" really means.
It's Time to Align with your Gatekeeper Boss
Too often, leaders and Market Strategists are engaged in a dance of mutual frustration. The Market Strategist is in the market finding and quantifying amazing opportunities - only to get stonewalled again and again by their manager. The manager is equally frustrated by team members that seem to ignore strategic direction in favor of pet projects the company can't fund, for markets they don't serve. Neither side is intentionally driving the other crazy (that's a different problem, for a different blog), but they're not doing much to remedy the situation, either. It's time to change that.
Your Opportunity to Unlock the Gate
Is there a workflow to get a gatekeeper leader and the Market Strategist aligned on what innovation means to the organization? Yes, and it has three steps:
Sit down with leadership and examine your company's vision and strategy statement. Specifically, agree on who your company wants to serve, the types of problems you want to solve for them, the kinds of products you'll build to do it, and what position you want to hold in the market. Pinpoint your particular role in delivering on that promise; are you responsible for all markets, or just North America? All innovation, or only the analytics toolkits?
Discuss the scale and scope of innovation your company aspires to. The Market Opportunity Spectrum is a great aid to this part of the brainstorming process - it puts a name to something that's otherwise hard to describe. Does leadership want to see disruptively innovative ideas, or responsive ideas that are more directly driven by today's buyers and users? If appropriate, ask what kind of annual funding and resources leadership would expect to put toward a "big idea," and how much time and resources would be available for funding one.
Use this strategic alignment to focus your market research efforts and prioritize your roadmaps. It's a great idea to check in - monthly at first, then quarterly - with your leader to share your thinking and solicit feedback on your efforts. Are the opportunities you're investigating more aligned with expectations? Continue to tweak your focus and repeat the steps if (and when) strategy changes.
Strategic alignment is critical to innovate on purpose - it also makes your job a lot easier and more rewarding!
About the Author
Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org.