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How To Stop Relying On Consultants By Building Your Company’s Innovation Capabilities

Post Covid-19, company leaders are going to be dealing with a lot of challenges. In addition to stabilizing their core business, leaders will also be thinking about how they can use innovation to drive new growth. The challenge for most organizations will be that they have historically neglected to develop the necessary innovation skills among their employees. In the constant drive for efficiency, some leaders have been actively hostile to innovation teams, viewing them as a waste of resources.

When disruption occurs, it becomes difficult for companies that do not already have an innovation muscle to respond.  Post Covid-19, companies are going to have to build innovation muscles in the middle of a crisis. It’s hard to reimagine the future with a group of employees that have been drilled to run the core business efficiently. Giving these people an opportunity to work on innovation projects will not be enough. They will inevitably lack the right skills to design new  business models, identify risky assumptions or run the right experiments to test new business ideas.

Innovation Coaches

The other challenge that corporate employees will face is time and resource. This has always been a challenge. However, when companies are in crisis mode, time and resources become even more precious.  Most people working in large companies will not have enough hours in their working week to build up the right skills for innovation. So when they start working on a project, they will be unsure what to do.

This is where coaching can really help. When employees have limited time and skills, surrounding them with the good innovation coaches can help move projects forward. A good option for companies is to use external consultants as innovation coaches. This option is good because it can at least help you to get started. What you don’t want, however, is to completely outsource your innovation capabilities to external consultants.

It is better for companies to use consultants as a bridge towards building their own internal innovation capabilities. I strongly believe that every company needs to have its own group of internal innovation coaches. This is an important innovation muscle to have. So when we work with consultants, we must not just use them to execute and deliver our innovation projects. We must also leverage their presence in our company  to train an internal group of coaches.

Catalysts + Coaches

At Intuit they train internal coaches through a program called Catalyst. They recruit internal coaches and train them on their Design for Delight innovation process (D4D). They have been doing this for several years and have built up a great group of internal coaches to support their innovation teams.  At Pearson, when they were rolling out the Lean Product Lifecycle, they had a train-the-trainer program that focused on building the innovation skills of selected employees.

When building up your group of internal innovation coaches, it is important to select the right people. It is not sufficient for people to have an interest in innovation or working on innovation projects. You need to recruit people that are passionate about innovation and equally passionate about teaching innovation to others. This is how you can spread best practices throughout the organization.

The Program

Based on my experience working with several large organizations, I have outlined below the steps you can use to run a successful train-the-trainer program. This approach is not formulaic and can be adapted to suit your company context. What is important is that you leverage the presence of consultants in your company to build up the right level of skill within your group of internal coaches, so that they can work independently going forward:

  1. Introduction Webinar: You can start with an introductory webinar where you outline the key elements of the train-the-trainer program. You can introduce the curriculum, set expectations and describe the innovation framework that will inform your program. For distributed teams working virtually, this kickoff webinar can be also used to onboard people onto the technology platforms you are going to be using for training and coaching.
  2. The Workshop: After the introductory webinar, the next step would be to run the first training workshop for your coaches. This is typically a two-day face to face event. More recently, I have been delivering virtual workshops that split up the two days into four hour sessions delivered over four separate days. During the workshop, you can train your coaches on innovation best practices such as how to design business models, identify hypotheses and run experiments to test business ideas.
  3. Coaching Practice: Even with the best workshops, your coaches are going to need a chance to practice by coaching real innovation teams. This where you can leverage the presence of consultants in your business. As leaders, you can require as part of every engagement that consultants are shadowed by your internal coaches as they work on innovation projects. As part of that shadowing process, your internal coaches  should get a chance to coach a few teams on business model design, experimentation and decision making.
  4. Support Webinars: As your internal coaches shadow consultants and coach innovation teams, you can also run bi-weekly support webinars. These provide your coaches with a chance to check-in and get support with any challenges they are facing with their work. It is also a great opportunity to revise and dive deeper into certain innovation topics like research methods and metrics.

As a company, you can set the requirements in terms of the number of hours of shadowing and coaching that are required before a person becomes a certified coach. It is also important to recruit coaches from all over the business, who are then deployed to help teams within their divisions or business units. This will allow innovation best practices to be spread across the company by passionate advocates.

The Community

It is also important to turn our coaches into a community of innovation practitioners. We need to create a range of possibilities for them to interact and learn from each other. Creating a community gets rid of isolation and provides innovators with the knowledge that they are not alone in the company – there are others like them.

As such, we should start building a community by organising regular meetups where people can share best practice. These meetups can feature external speakers. You can also run a weekly lean coffee meeting. People can turn up, select topics and spend an hour discussing their challenges and successes.

Beyond meeting face to face, we can also use digital tools to create our community. For example, we could host weekly or monthly webinars where we discuss various innovation topics. We can also create a digital platform with blogs, videos and an interactive page. The goal is to have a strong community of practitioners that are continuously getting better at their craft. This is how we can stop relying on consultants and build our own innovation capabilities.
This article was first published on Forbes where Tendayi Viki is a regular contributor. Learn more at

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