The Value of Having an Innovation Coach

The value of having an innovation coach.Behavioural coaching is big business. Having your personal coach alongside you when you are making a significant change in your role has been invaluable to many executives. Equally in having external support when someone is  either stepping up in the organization or making a significant change in their responsibilities has recognised value to that person and to the organization to manage the transition. There is significant value in employing an innovation coach in my opinion, let me explain why here.

The growth of the innovation coach.

I predict innovation coaching will grow in its recognition, value and importance in 2012. Why? There is a growing sense of urgency around the need for innovation to solve our growth problems. This quest for seeking out growth and new opportunities continues to raise innovation consciousness. We all are aware part of the barriers to better innovation adoption come from our existing and constrained mental models, so when you introduce the need for greater innovation you introduce multiplicity- you get challenged more, your current framework of ‘business as usual’ gets disturbed significantly.

What is called for increasingly is a far more open mind that allows for opening up and gaining greater connectivity on a host of different levels. The more we connect, the more we see innovation potential.

Having available an experienced innovation coach can be supportive, informative and provide a greater understanding of how innovation ‘all fits together’ and where it can fit (or not) within what you currently do. The end result is shifting the thinking, merging what you have with what you have been introduced too, so as to deepen the essential understanding of all that makes up innovation.

Any innovation approach I suggest does follow ‘classic’ coaching steps or phases.

Coaching for behavioural change needs to be brought down to the personal level- the recipient needs to relate, to let new information pass through his knowledge lens and see the new fits for himself. What simply does not work is if this was seen to be imposed- they will eventually discarded- and then a person simply reverts back. The person needs to go through four stages of personal awareness.

You go through four stages.

  1. Unconscious Incompetence– this is often a self reflection stage where the coach and the person receiving the coaching simply reflect and draw out areas of incomplete knowledge. You raise them from being unconsciously there.
  2. Conscious Incompetence– From these reflections you gain insights, you begin to explore tested tools and techniques, you begin to frame new references that are relevant, you begin to explore and experiment. You are looking for growing confirmation that it has value.
  3. Conscious Competence– As you begin to ‘grasp’ differences this enables the exchanges between coach and person being coached to look at the alternatives with a growing confidence and some ‘matching’ begins to occur. These new conscious understandings begin to become relevant and within the discussions you can see an emerging path for action beginning to emerge.
  4. Unconscious competence– the final part where the impact of what has been learnt, understood, investigated and explored has a real personal impact. It seeps into the make-up of the person and changes there ‘going forward’ behaviour. These see different patterns, they comprehend innovation meaning differently than their original perspective and these ‘new’ competences enter and become more automatic, unconsciously simply occurring, as the way to manage innovation going forward as the value ‘gels’.

The whole process can take time.

This is partly the time available not just for the one-on-one sessions but the work that does need to occur in the in-between meetings. It could also take a few sessions, focused on specific areas before you pass from one state to another. It needs significant investigation and work from both the coach and the recipient but increasingly more from the recipient as the understanding expands.

Current roadblocks can be deep.

Innovation is sometimes just ‘skin deep’ but as you peel away that top layer you get revealed many aspects of personal bias or general ‘accepted’ perceptions. These could include an often surprising (to the individual) lack of their openness, how he or his organization is so risk adverse. As you explore the way innovation is currently conducted it never surprises me of the talk of ‘just’ a top down culture imposing innovation on the company and its employees, and why this has never been fully challenged.

Often you draw out that level of conservatism within innovation activity that is so often tucked under the coat of incremental only and the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ can change has never been fully considered. Sometimes certain individuals can feel suddenly being ‘empowered’ as the innovation champion can be seen by others that they are simply showing off and resist any advances, believing that persons knowledge is no different from their own, so they quietly resist- that needs addressing. Then you can come across that ‘superior’ person who has become the ‘stage gate’ decider irrespective of knowledge.

Each of these all can come through to others as lacking reputation and not as respected for their innovation knowledge as they need to be. Coaching can change all in awareness.

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A structured approach is valuable.

Going through a structured coaching programme for innovation can offset often these hidden barriers as well as bridge countless other unknowns. Working in a safe environment with a knowledgeable innovation coach can clearly help.

Sometimes the individual involved that ‘rush’ of offloads, all their concerns may come out in a rush. Or often and more than likely, each layer of enquiry needs to be peeled away in gentle probing or sometimes by exploring different challenges of ‘what if?’. That is determined by the skill of the coach as well as the willingness of the recipient to exploring sometimes aspects that are at a real personal level of thinking. Each needs to trust the other.

Getting into a comfortable relationship between coach and the person ‘looking for change’ takes time and chemistry. The higher up an organization, the more the managing of often sensitive discussions can become tricky.

Innovation Coaching has real value.

Although this seems to be expensive to undertake, one-on-one coaching offers a lasting value to connect innovation far more deeply in the way a person and their organization ‘sees it’.

The importance, like all behavioral change coaching, is to create a safe but challenging environment so the recipient can take risks and learn. You as the coach find the balance between challenging through enquiry and supporting different thinking to draw out possibilities to gain new understanding from.

All the work is usually based on the recipient’s agenda, through a set of opening discussions you need to balance both personal learning with organizational needs. These need consistent clarification and recalibrating as you go.

The coach’s role is to facilitate and collaborate.

You need to take care not to act like ‘the expert’ imposing a given view but you can explore options that the recipient draws their own conclusions and value from. Avoid imposing and provide different thinking and perspectives so it becomes a facilitated debate that the recipient draws into.

Coaching is made up of a series of interactions.

The ability to create meaningful interactions that connect people with ideas allows them to clarify and connect on the more important principles and critical issues surrounding innovation. Having a real passion and depth of innovation knowledge becomes critical to navigate this often tricky road to discovery.

The value of a coach is he/she is both a catalyst and facilitator of individual development. The value is in looking to improve innovation performance within that persons understanding so there is a distinct ROII (return on innovation investment).

Pause, learn and then move on with new innovation purpose and knowledge.

By helping executives to firstly  pause, then take stock of the significance of various innovation transitions, and help them determine the best way to proceed is invaluable. Of course this support is determined by the commitment, engagement, the given skills and scope as well as the person’s real interests in wanting to have a greater understanding of innovation. It all requires available time.

Innovation coaching has a valuable contribution to make, in the right hands and with the  right person. It has a significant personal investment on all sides involved to achieve clarity, insight and returns for innovation to flourish so others can equally benefit from this more intensive approach and emerging internal expertise that will eventually come from within.

imagecredit: actioncoach
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Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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No Comments

  1. Holger Pissot on January 28, 2012 at 5:09 am

    We run a startup Open Innovation Company with an interesting SW as the base. We learned from several Sales activities that lots of companies talk about Opern Innovation but still struggle to undrstand its value.
    I’m wondering if it could make sense to discuss a ventureship to adapt your method for The German speaking market.

    Thanks for your feedback,

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