How leaders support (and sometimes hinder) corporate innovation

Research shows that leadership commitment can be a powerful supporting factor within global new product development projects. However, the commitment can also have an inhibiting effect

The surprising result emerged from prize-winning study by a team of researchers from Europe and America who studied the relationships between leadership commitment and effectiveness of new product development (NPD) projects surveying nearly 400 global business units.

The paper by Elko Kleinschmidt, Ulrike De Brentani, and Søren Salomo won the Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards best paper award for 2010, voted by the editorial board of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal.

The study

The study draws on information processing theories of innovation which explore the relationships between information technology deployment and knowledge conversion into new products. The researchers examined the impact of senior managers internally as moderating factors in the process.

Such research requires the most careful attention to methodology to arrive at claims for reliability and conceptual validity of conclusions. The difficulties increase when the studies are multi-level (internal to the firm, and out into the wider global environment). The authors are careful to address these issues.

The anticipated findings

Among the anticipated findings was the conventional wisdom that top management commitment enhances innovation efforts. The authors were to find the view only partially confirmed.

The actual findings

“The research indicates that Senior Management Involvement does not impact global NPD outcome directly, but that there are significant interactions with the two [internal environmental factors]. One may speculate that Senior Management Involvement permeates all aspects of international NPD – but, in a leadership, visioning and delegating fashion – and that its real impact on performance is primarily indirect, through its moderation of all related systems and activities”.

The research adds evidence to another suspicion among technical professions, that top management enthusiasm for a technological fix may result in over-zealous involvement and perhaps ‘meddling’

On getting too involved

“By supporting the IT-Comm Infrastructure of their firms, senior management gives it relevance and legitimacy, potentially making its use an integral part of the global NPD culture of the firm and thus ensuring its use throughout the organization. At the same time, getting too involved in the day-to-day NPD operations can be problematic. Already developed capabilities in the form of routines for concrete problem solving could be weakened through ad hoc approaches introduced by top management.”

Notes

The researchers were honoured at a dinner in Corpus Christi college Cambridge [September 7th 2011] hosted by Dr James Moultrie, Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge University as an event within the 1st Cambridge Academic Design Management Conference (CADMC). James was the recipient of the award in 2009.

The photograph shows from left to right Professor Olaf Fischer, University of Twente; Susan Moger, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester; Emeritus Professor Elko Kleinschmidt, McMaster University; Emeritus Professor Tudor Rickards, Manchester University; Dr James Moultrie, Cambridge University; Dr Søren Salomo, Danish Technical University; and Dr Klassjan Visscher, University of Twente.

Olaf and Klassan are co-editors of Creativity and Innovation Management Journal [with, in absentia, Professor Petra de Weerd-Nederhof, University of Twente].

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