“Innovation Coaching” An Inside Look at The Catalyst for Organization Change

21 min read

Innovation

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Huston, we have a problem 

In today’s business, the drive towards innovation is unrelenting. Yet, startlingly, more than 90% of all innovation initiatives fall short of their ambitions, both in established corporates and buzzing startups. The reasons for this high failure rate are as varied as they are instructive. The chart below paints a clear picture: whether it’s a lack of market need, financial missteps, or operational mishaps, the pitfalls are numerous and daunting. 

Source: „How to Create Innovation“ by Digital Leadership 

The stakes are undeniably high. On average, organizations invest upwards of $1 million per single innovation initiative. This $1m is spent from idea to building a Minimum Viable Product – which is still prior to scaling! The opportunity cost of failure is not just a financial figure—it represents lost potential, customer trust, and market positioning and often leaves a demotivated team behind. 

The source of all issues beyond people is processes. 

All of the above points are ultimately methodological issues. The source of all issues beyond the human being is methodology. 

The most profound of all of them is the lack of clear methodologies and processes – the bedrock of success.  

All other topics mentioned above are equally solvable with the right methodology and approaches. Need a few examples? 

  • Are you suffering from an ill-adapted culture? Leverage the most important success factors and start addressing those. 
  • Do you struggle to understand your customer needs? Then use the right approach to identifying customer needs properly. 
  • Lacking the right organizational structure? Then review the best and leading practices, as well as ways of implementing those. 
  • Failing to verify your MVP or product? Then check out the well-defined approaches for validation and testing….Etc. 

So basically, our understanding of the world is that all of the above-mentioned issues … 

  1. stand in the way of successful innovation and transformation and  
  1. can be solved with the right methodology and approaches. 

There is simply no excuse for not fixing your processes. To proactively mitigate innovation failure, we have to up our game. 

How do you do that? You leverage the UNITE models – the by far largest library of tools on #strategy, #innovation and #transformation. The UNITE models are a cornerstone of our innovation coaching. They allow us to identify and address typical innovation challenges like the ones mentioned above highly effectively.  

You don’t know the UNITE models yet? Discover those here, sign-up for free and get to work! 

The need for innovation in today’s business Landscape 

The necessity for innovation in today’s business landscape is driven by rapid and often disruptive technological advancements, as indicated by the drastic price drops in numerous exponential technologies such as 3D printing, drones, and biotech and numerous other technologies as exemplified in the chart below:  

Examples of Exponential Accelerating Change
The UNITE Examples Of Exponentially Accelerating Change
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

The exponential evolution of fundamental technologies at reducing prices is reshaping industries at an unprecedented pace, making innovation not just a strategic move in search for new avenues of growth, but a requirement: innovation has suddenly become a dearly required survival mechanism. 

The arrival of artificial intelligence and tools like ChatGPT just represent the latest wave of disruption. AI’s ability to analyze data, automate processes, and create new interaction paradigms is fundamentally changing the way businesses operate and compete. Organizations that fail to integrate such technologies risk obsolescence. 

Since the need for change is clearly understood, let’s now compare the different approaches towards innovation.  

Comparing the different approaches to innovation 

Choosing the right approach to innovation is critical for any organization aiming to stay competitive and grow. Let’s explore the different approaches to innovation that you may consider as an organization: 

Innovation Workshops  

Innovation workshops may be an opportunity to jump-start an innovation initiative. From our experience, however, we are highly critical of such “innovation workshops” and have seen most organizations fail to achieve their objectives with those. Here is why:  

  • Misused for innovation ideas: often, those workshops have as their objective to generate “innovative ideas. That shouldn’t be the case: innovation ideas should be derived from “important but unmet customer needs”. If you are brainstorming for ideas, you don’t know whether they are inside the relevant frame for your organization; you don’t know if you are leveraging the differentiating capabilities of your organization (which is critical or else you end up again in a red ocean), nor do you know if those ideas respond to important but unmet customer needs.  
  • Focus on one particular topic: alternatively, those workshops are often used to deep-dive into one particular aspect, such as diving into your business model, value proposition, or similar. The big problem with such approaches is that you don’t want to focus on one thing, rather, you want to look at the holistic picture and come up with a superior holistic approach, ultimately connecting value proposition to business model to operating model. Excellence in individual disciplines is overrated(!). We don’t want the best possible value proposition, business model, or operating model – much rather, we want a superior holistic setup.  
  • “Design Thinking” workshops:  the problem with design thinking is that the framing is often far too large to create a meaningful concept with that very methodology. While design thinking is a great methodology, the solution space must be extremely narrow to come up with superior concepts. Most organizations fail to do so, leading them to lose focus, moving into related spaces (which no longer respond to the important but unmet customer needs ) and thus missing the core. If you want to learn Design Thinking correctly and understand how to use that concept better, buy our book or speak with us 

We are not against innovation workshops. But to get something out of them, they need to be setup correctly and make sense. If you are interested, speak to us.  

Doing the innovation yourself – in-house 

In-house innovation involves utilizing an organization’s internal resources to generate and implement new ideas. While this approach allows for direct control over the innovation process, it often suffers from certain limitations: 

  • Experience gap: Many organizations sporadically engage in innovation, which means they lack the continuous experience that breeds proficiency. Unlike innovation coaches or specialized consultancies that focus on innovation as their core business, in-house teams may only address innovation intermittently. In a game where experience is paramount, they are thus failing most often.  
  • Toolset and expertise: Without regular practice, organizations typically do not have the right tools and understanding of methodologies to foster successful innovation. And while fantastic resources exist, such as our very own book on creating innovation, they alone won’t make you successful, even if you read so and so much and leverage the UNITE models in addition. It ultimately takes real-world experience.

Working with an external innovation consultancy or agency 

Partnering with external consultancies can bring in  fresh perspectives and expertise: 

  • Right partnership: The success of working with a consultancy hinges on the experience and knowledge of the team assigned to your project. There’s a risk here: while some teams are highly experienced, most are not. 
  • Cost considerations: working with consultancies will require significant budgets. Ultimately, having a team do your work is very expensive. As a result, this approach is often not scalable to a portfolio of innovations. But one innovation is typically not enough, since in by far most organizations, by far most innovations are failing.  
  • Knowledge built up: Innovation is increasingly becoming a core capability necessary to maintain and strengthen competitiveness. Outsourcing a critical function will not allow you to develop those essential skills. If there were only one single rule about outsourcing, it would be this one: never outsource a core competency. Never outsource what you depend upon.  

Leverage or Hire an Innovation Coach 

Engaging with an innovation coach combines the benefits of external expertise and cost-efficiency: 

  • Cost-effectiveness: Innovation coaching is cheap compared to hiring a consultancy. Instead of paying for an entire team on a daily basis over several months, you just have to pay the fees of coaching – a fraction of the total cost.  
  • Access to expertise: A seasoned innovation coaching program brings a wealth of experience, providing the tools and techniques for innovation and strategic guidance tailored to your organization’s or initiatives’ unique challenges and opportunities. 

Innovation Training or Hiring an Innovation Trainer

While there is an abundance of innovation training & innovation trainers available, most are entirely focused on one method (such as Design Thinking, Scrum or OKR) or one topic (such as the Business Model Canvas, conversion optimization or identifying a purpose).  

Both approaches fall short of solving the core challenges any organization dealing with innovation has: gaining a holistic understanding of the matter end-to-end.  

If you want to learn more about innovation training, please download here our guide to training requirements.

Let’s summarize the different approaches to innovation 

For businesses contemplating their innovation strategies, it’s essential to weigh these approaches against their specific circumstances, business goals, and resource capabilities.  

In summary:  

  • Innovation Workshops can be a great tool if – and only if – you set them up correctly and don’t misuse them, which is most often the case.   
  • In-house innovation typically fails. In-house innovation is only successful if  
  • You have a highly mature team  
  • With full-time commitment 
  • A team that is hugely experienced  
  • Led by an entrepreneur-leader 
  • The team must be decoupled from the mother organization 
  • And the team should do innovation constantly – thus having been there numerous times.  
  • Working with an external consultancy or agency can be a great way to go, if they know what they are doing (similar requirements as for in-house innovation) and if you have the budget. Most often, that approach is appropriate if your initiative is really critical.  
  • Leveraging an innovation coach is by far most effective since you get access to all the methodologies and have a highly senior sparring partner; it allows you to enable and train your team while heavily reducing the failure rate. And it does so at a fraction of the cost.  
  • Innovation Training can be highly effective if it is holistic in nature. Else it is most often a waste of time and costs and won’t make the desired impact. Even if your team is well trained, theory doesn’t turn a team into great practitioners.  

We are supporting our customers as true business partners across all of those different ways to innovate. Reach out to us if you want to deep-dive!   

The key components of effective innovation coaching 

An effective innovation coaching program goes beyond surface-level advice, tackling the root causes that hinder transformative success. Here’s a look at the key topics that we typically address in our coaching program with our customers: 

  • Creating the right foundation and setup for your initiative  
  • Understanding your customer’s important but unmet needs 
  • Refining your positioning and value proposition based on quantitative customer insights 
  • Identifying where to start and what to do, leveraging your differentiating capabilities and other assets 
  • Refining – where required – your business model and operating model, thus ultimately integrating all key aspects holistically: from customer needs to value proposition to business model to operating model 
  • Helping you make the right strategic decisions regarding your initiative  
  • Leveraging the power of Business Model Innovation 
  • Scaling successfully so you see bottom-line results 
  • Next to those topics, we are able to discuss other aspects relevant to your initiative flexibly 

One of the reasons why our approach is so effective is that these points directly map to the root causes of failure we discussed at the beginning of the article. We are thus ensuring that we address the most important reasons for failure effectively.  

Our Unique Approach to Innovation Coaching 

You probably noticed that we are not only discussing innovation coaching but that we are discussing an “Innovation Coaching Program”. Our coaching offering indeed stretches far beyond coaching. Let’s have a look at what we do…  

Weekly Coaching Session

The core of our coaching program is weekly coaching sessions with the innovation team at always the same time every single week. They are led by an expert senior leader who acts as a steadfast mentor, providing custom support and holding the innovation team leader and the innovation team accountable.  

Consistency is key, so the innovation team works with the same coach each week unless specific expertise is needed or availability is not given.  

Sessions are scheduled for one hour but may vary depending on progress and discussion needs—brief check-ins for accountability or extended discussions of up to 90 minutes when necessary.  

Tailored Guidance:  

The innovation journey is accompanied by individualized support from our dedicated innovation coaches, who are available for additional assistance via email or messenger when urgent needs surface. 

The UNITE models:  

The UNITE models are by far the largest library of tools on #strategy, #innovation, and #transformation. As part of the program, our customers receive both editable and print-ready versions suitable for workshops, alongside exclusive insights previously unpublished. Our innovation coaches guide the innovation team in utilizing the appropriate tools at each juncture of their innovation journey. Explore the UNITE models here if you don’t know them yet: digitalleadership.com/UNITE.  

Comprehensive Knowledge Resource:  

How to Create Innovation,” a celebrated global bestseller, encompasses the full spectrum of strategy, innovation, and transformation holistically and end-to-end. Our coaching customers get several copies of the book in both physical and digital formats to augment their journey. Learn more about the book at: digitalleadership.com/createinnovation.  

We end when you are successful:  

The program only ends when the innovation team is successful. We typically work with our innovation coaching customers for, on average, 9 months. Success takes dedicated effort and mutual commitment to the transformative process. For us, it is a big commitment that we are ready to make if we can help drive the required transformative change.  

We only accept to work with customers whose challenges we are confident to solve:   

Before onboarding a new coaching customer, we ensure we can solve their challenges. We do so by investing in an extensive review process from our side, challenging the potential customer with our questions and thinking to ensure that we have a fair understanding of the full picture.  

Only once we are convinced that we can make a difference and see that we can turn their innovation challenge into a success do we sign up for the process. Why? Our reputation is at stake. And we only want to engage in initiatives that have a fair chance of succeeding.  

What Outcomes Do We Think Are Achievable? 

Our tailored innovation coaching significantly boosts success probabilities. With over 120 teams coached, a success rate of approximately 50% is achievable from our experience, a notable improvement over the industry’s average failure rate of over 90%. The cost of unsuccessful innovation efforts is substantial, making the return on investment from our coaching services both rapid and substantial. Teams often report achieving breakthroughs within the first three sessions. This success stems from our distinctive approach that combines consistent weekly coaching, specialized knowledge, and a thorough client qualification process to ensure we effectively address and resolve their unique challenges. 

Beyond, our innovation coaching provides the following benefits: 

  • Avoiding a zig-zag trajectory: our coaching circumvents or at least heavily reduces the typical zig-zag trajectory of transformative efforts. 
  • Reduction of high failure rates: Leveraging our regular, focused weekly sessions, our approach is designed to lower the traditionally high failure rates of innovation initiatives drastically.
  • High-cost savings compared to consulting: our coaching allows our customers to learn more while costing a fraction of any consulting approach. Top of FormBottom of Form
  • Training: the program, while not strictly training, represents an exceptional opportunity for learning, offering exposure to some of the most innovative and exciting developments currently available.
  • Personal and leadership development: embarking on our coaching journey enhances professional competencies and fosters robust leadership development, equipping our customer teams with the insights and agility to navigate and lead in an ever-evolving business landscape. We expect our customers to arrive with a learning and growth mindset. 
  • Integrates well with any existing supplier landscape: our coaching program seamlessly integrates with any existing network of suppliers and consultants, such as IT firms and agencies, ensuring that the innovation initiative is steered effectively by clarifying and aligning the expectations of all parties involved. 

We stand by the conviction that flipping the script is possible—that a 50% success rate in innovation endeavours is not just aspirational but achievable.  

Through tailored innovation coaching, we aim to equip businesses with the robust methodologies and strategic oversight necessary to navigate the treacherous waters of innovation, significantly improving their odds of success. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1- What is innovation coaching?

Innovation coaching is a targeted process to help organizations develop and execute new strategies for growth and transformation, with personalized support and expertise. 

2- Who is innovation coaching for?

It’s for any organization looking to innovate—whether you’re a startup or an established company. 

3- How long does the coaching program last?

 Our standard program runs for six months, with the flexibility to extend as needed to ensure success. 

4- What makes your coaching approach unique?

Our program stands out due to its success rate, which is substantially higher than the industry average, due to our tailored approach, experienced coaching, and integration into your existing business processes. 

5- What outcomes can we expect?

With our coaching, expect to bypass the common trial-and-error path of innovation, realize significant cost savings, and see tangible professional and leadership growth. 

6- How do we get started?

Contact us for a detailed discussion and to tailor a coaching plan that suits your organization’s needs. 

For more detailed questions, please reach out directly to book a consultation. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the innovation coaching program outlined in this article offers a comprehensive approach to transforming your organization’s creative capabilities. The key benefits include a streamlined path to innovation, significant cost savings compared to traditional consulting, and personalized development for both leaders and teams. With a proven track record and a commitment to adaptability, this program is not just a service—it’s transforming potential into performance

If you’re ready to lead your organization to new heights of success and innovation, we invite you to take the next step. Contact us to learn more or schedule a consultation to discuss how our coaching can be tailored to your unique needs. 

Act now to secure your place at the forefront of innovation. Reach out to Digital Leadership AG today, and let’s create your success story together. 

Author background & more information about Digital Leadership 

About the Author: Stefan F. Dieffenbacher is a visionary leader and founder of Digital Leadership AG. He also serves as our head of innovation coaching. With a rich background in steering organizations through digital transformation and innovation, Stefan has established himself as a global thought leader in the field, authoring influential works and leading over 120 successful innovation teams. 

About Digital Leadership: Digital Leadership AG is a consultancy at the cutting edge of strategy, innovation, and transformation. The firm is renowned for its unique coaching programs that have propelled numerous companies into new realms of success, setting industry benchmarks in the process. 

For more insights and information, visit Digital Leadership

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