There’s one common refrain we hear from innovators and executives looking to drive change within the enterprise: “I don’t know how to get started.”

While that often means innovators struggle to prioritize challenges or projects, many executives simply don’t know how to empower their staff to pursue innovation. Creating a sustainable framework for innovation first requires building an innovation group capable of identifying problems facing the core business and pursuing creative solutions to those problems.

Though innovation should start at the top of the organization, it’s driven by talented staff across the business. As you seek to create impactful changes within the enterprise, there are four models for staffing an innovation group:

Strategic – Most businesses lack the resources and staff to create strategic innovation groups. Often led directly by the CEO or a C-Level innovation champion, strategic innovation groups typically pursue long-term initiatives or entirely new lines of revenue. Backed by large budgets and reporting directly to the C-Suite, strategic innovation groups require professionals with diverse experience and the ability to test and deploy hugely impactful products. The strategic group often acts as a startup within the enterprise.

Centralized – The classic model of innovation places shared services at the center of the business to provide value across the entirety of the core business. Often acting as R&D labs, or Centers of Excellence, centralized innovation groups are fully funded and staffed to support the profit centers of the business. While they typically focus on incremental improvements to the core business, the main goal of a centralized innovation group should be to drive value across the profit centers of the organization.

Temporary Duty – Many organizations tap innovation leaders and support staff to tackle a specific problem, placing promising mid-level managers in a strategic role to gain new experience before moving to primary responsibilities. While this can result in impactful improvements to processes or even new revenue lines, it’s hard for an innovator to gain traction in a temporary duty role. Talent is critical to both the core business and the innovation lab, yet making innovation a pit stop on the way to a core business role clearly de-prioritizes innovation within the company.

Part-Timers – Organizations like 3M and Google famously give employees 15-20% of their work-week as unstructured innovation time. While that’s resulted in some of those companies’ most successful products, most businesses require more targeted innovation from side projects. Mid-sized enterprises and legacy businesses often task high-performing staff with innovation as a second duty, allocating 40% of their time to work on pursuing innovation with other people from across the business. Since new ventures aren’t the core focus, part-time innovators often benefit from working with outside partners to build solutions or implement new processes across the organization.

There is no correct way to fund or pursue innovation; corporate leaders must test and build a model that works best for their particular culture and business framework. Successfully allocating innovation talent throughout your business requires a clear understanding of corporate reality and a willingness to empower creative, driven people.

How does your company allocate staff for innovation projects?


Robert Berris is EVP and Managing Director of Three Five Two where he leads company strategy and day-to-day operations.