This week Grant Thornton New Zealand hosted an interactive innovation workshop for 29 independent directors in association with Appoint Better Boards.

The session explored whether or not innovation should be a fixed item on the Board agenda and if Boards and CEOs are well equipped to drive innovation.

Melissa Jenner, Head of Grant Thornton’s Design and Innovation Service facilitated the workshop.

“I’ve felt that innovation should be a fixed item on the Board Agenda for a long time now and insights gained from our workshop have strengthened this view. With a mandate to drive strategy and manage risk, innovation seems to sit in the cross hairs of the Boards’ governance role.

“I designed the session to foster a conversation between the participants about how they might take a more active role in setting the innovation strategy and having an innovation governance approach,” says Jenner.

There was a strong appetite from the participants for driving an innovation agenda from Director and Board level, but the majority said that the CEO must sit in the driver’s seat.

Jenner says, “CEOs need to lead through having a transparent innovation process or methodology. They need to encourage creative, collaborative behaviours and the co-creation of a portfolio of initiatives with both the Board and potentially outside partners.

Only 50% of Boards represented at the workshop regularly review innovation as part of their agenda and 62% have no set KPIs or reporting requirements around innovation initiatives.

Directors also explored nine possible innovation models that included everything from appointing a Chief Innovation Officer, to enabling creative ‘duos’ within the organisation. The adoption of a C-suite led steering committee supported by innovation champions was seen as the most effective way to fuel innovation in an organisation.

Jenner says, “If New Zealand companies are going to flourish in the innovation space, CEOs need to send a clear signal that they have an appetite for experimentation and the unknown, and then empower accountable executives to pursue and test opportunities”.

Key insights from Grant Thornton’s innovation workshop

  • The greatest blocker for innovation is a lack of dedicated time (outside of BAU) to focus on future growth opportunities, and having the right culture and skills to drive opportunities forward
  • The greatest enabler for innovation is strong C-suite level leadership (ideally the CEO), creating an environment that fosters rapid prototyping and open experimentation – in other words, an appetite to learn by failing fast.
  • Some of the main forces impacting growth and with potential for disruption of NZ companies include political, regulatory and compliance constraints, offshoring and automation of low skilled jobs, and the changing requirements of customers.
  • For CEOs to increase innovation, they need to actively design an innovation framework (of both process and behaviours) and augment existing talent with external specialists who are armed with the specific best-practice skills to fuel the ratio of success.  There is also a view that a mandated management agenda and a KPI on innovation are needed in more New Zealand companies. 
  • Aligning strategy, risk and investment is seen as critical, and requires a stronger risk appetite from a more diverse set of Board Directors.
  • Adopting a governance model that includes an Innovation Steering Committee and Innovation Champions within the organisation is key.  By combining C-suite level support with active and dedicated producers within the organisation, innovation is more likely to flourish.

Melissa Jenner
Head of Design and Innovation
Grant Thornton New Zealand
T +64 (0)21 496 114