Innovative culture, entrepreneurial skills and managing stakeholders: how to achieve innovative success

Innovation guru Malin Liden discusses innovative working cultures, developing entrepreneurial skills and budgeting for innovation success

Off the back of Malin Liden’s talk, ‘How to influence people: The marketing innovator’s guide to success’ at B2B Marketing’s InTech 2018, the VP at SAP Experience was met with inspired leaders wanting to know more about how she created an innovation-centric team, from forming an innovative working culture all the way to successfully managing key stakeholders.

When did you realise you’d achieved an innovative culture?

"I knew I’d made it when a team member came to me and asked for a slot on the team meeting. They said, ‘I want to share how I failed and what I learned from it so the team can see that it didn’t cost me my job, it didn’t cost me my career and that I’m still in a really good place’. That, to me, was it. It’s about going out there and celebrating those situations.

"As a leader, you have to go out of your way to recognise those people in public, not just in a one-to-one situation. When you’re talking about failure and the learning, make it a public appearance. That’s why I like the aforementioned situation so much, because it showed me the team's culture is solid. This team member was not scared to share his failure – on the contrary, he wanted to help other people feel safe."

How did you manage stakeholders during the two years it took to create and launch your first large-scale innovation (social selling within SAP)?

"Through portfolio management. I launched smaller innovation projects that weren't going to produce the huge results but that I knew were lower risk and more likely to produce a successful result. It gave me the time I needed to work on the bigger wins.

"Make sure you communicate what you’re doing right now, what it’s contributing to the overall strategic objectives, and what you think this idea can bring"

Malin Liden, VP, SAP Experience

"Most big wins are going to take longer, so you need to communicate your milestones along the way, we worked for two years before the first big win and lots of things happened during that time. We could see we were on to something, but it took a while to really monetise. Make sure you communicate what you’re doing right now, what it’s contributing to the overall strategic objectives, and what you think this idea can bring."

What's the favourite example of innovation you carried out?

"I guess it’s the [first big successful innovation] that earned £4 billion! It was an interesting one, not just because of the money, but because it was about implementing social selling at SAP. This meant teaching pull versus push to salespeople who’d been trained to do hard selling throughout their entire careers.

"They had to teach themselves to be interesting enough that customers would want to come to us, instead of pushing ourselves to them. It was a super difficult challenge because if you tell the sales team ‘I know how you can be more successful’, the first question they have is ‘Can we do this next quarter?’. It really took some serious convincing and selling, because we knew the reward at the end was so big."

How do you develop the entrepreneurial skills of your team when they’re dealing with daily tasks?

"In general, when it comes to leadership and management, I believe a lot more in rewarding what you want to see rather than punishing what you don’t want to see. Overly recognise people who maybe didn't do exactly what you wanted, but were moving in the right general direction.

InTech Q&A with Malin Liden

"I also believe strongly in values. If you want to embrace difference, you have to talk about what that means for all of you. During team discussions, talk about what this means to each of you, and calibrate your opinions to what this means for the company, and what it means for you. It may be very different for different people, but values create awareness within the team about how the company wants to operate."

How is learning valuable to innovation when it’s not measurable?

"It’s an investment – and it comes back to entrepreneurial skills. As an entrepreneur, you do things that set you up for success – things that won’t work in a one-to-one relationship, but needs a team effort to achieve success. The results will speak for themselves, and if the team aren’t invested in learning, they'll be left behind."

Are most of your innovations internal like social selling and culture, or external like customer initiatives and online services? Which has the bigger impact?

"The biggest examples of innovation are the external ones, and I can’t think of any innovation project that didn’t have an external impact. Social selling was an interesting one, because the internal aspect is teaching your sales team how to work differently, but the overall impact is totally external. To make an external impact, it sometimes requires innovation internally."

Should you allocate a certain amount of budget to blue-sky thinking?

"That’s one of my recommendations. When I got my dream job [as VP of innovation in marketing at SAP], that was the idea. It was quite visionary of my hiring manager to set aside a group and give them resources to focus on the things that others cannot afford to, due to having to generate leads in the current quarter. She wanted to create an environment where we can think outside the box. It’s very important in innovation to put aside money and resources for that way of thinking."

How many of your ideas were launched and how many were successful?

In the time that I’ve led the innovation team, I would say about 40% of the ideas actually got off the ground and became something. Not all of them were that big because some stuff will come from portfolio management. Some people say you need ten ideas to have a good one.