By Tristan Kromer

 

Innovation teams are usually working weekends and nights. Their projects are usually passion projects that are on top of their 9-5 job. They are often driven by the desire to have an impact and change the world, even if it’s in a small way.

I’ve seen people who are passionate about redesigning cardboard boxes with an inexplicable energy. Inexplicable until they show the calculation of just how many tons of CO2 can be removed from the air by optimizing the reuse of packaging.

Assume every entrepreneur is justifiably passionate about their work, even if you don’t understand it at first. If you make that assumption, the least an investor board can do is show up and pay attention.

 

Innovation board members should show up at meetings prepared and ready to support their innovation teams.

 

Most executives I know are keenly aware of the effort being put in. But even one executive who is spaced out, checking messages on their phone, or simply late to the meeting sends a powerful signal to the innovation team that their work is not appreciated.

Innovation boards need to show up and be present.

Before the Meeting

Innovation board meetings are usually pretty short. To get to the right decision in the minimal amount of time, investors need to show up prepared.

Review the pitch ahead of time

Generally, having a team pitch live is a waste of time. Send the deck out beforehand and have everyone read it. Insisting on a live presentation just encourages the team to spend hours rehearsing the perfect presentation to impress senior management. Storytelling is important, but those hours could be better spent on actual innovation.

Every investor should take the time to review the deck and jot down their major questions. It saves time and avoids potential biases from evaluating the person instead of focusing on the data. Presenting live usually takes longer and makes decisions worse.

Send your questions to the team

Sending the questions in advance to the team will let them focus their entire time on filling in the blanks rather than reading words off a powerpoint slide – information the board members should have already seen. More importantly, if the team needs to gather additional information, they’ll have a chance to do so before the meeting.

Be clear about what data you want to see

The worst possible outcome for an investor meeting is that everyone agrees that they need a critical piece of data to make a decision, and that data isn’t there.

If the board feels they need to see a detailed Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity meter, or A/B test results with the Margin of Error clearly indicated, they should tell the team beforehand. This data is easy to prepare, and time saved can be used discussing the project.

Read the pre-read. Ask questions at least a day in advance of the meeting. Do the work. If nothing else, teams will respect – and feel respected by – your preparation.

During the Meeting

It’s very challenging to pay attention for two hours straight. Especially on Zoom.

Most of my board meetings start at 5am, so I’m often struggling to wake up. I’m stiff, and I’m getting 20 notifications on my phone telling me about urgent emails, error messages on my website, time to practice my piano, back channel messages from other innovation board members, and — laughably — my meditation app telling me I should meditate for five minutes to improve my concentration.

Nonetheless, you have to show up.

Pay attention

Close those apps. Turn off that phone. Have your coffee or tea ready.

Once you are in the room – whether it’s physical or digital – treat innovation teams like they own your time. They have earned it. Click To Tweet

Remote doesn’t mean vacay

The move to remote meetings over the past few years has brought a more casual culture to the virtual office. I think that’s great – comfy workers are productive workers.

But an innovation board meeting isn’t a typical day at the office. For teams, it’s a goal line that’s taken countless hours of work to reach. Show up to a remote meeting with the same preparation and energy you would bring to a live meeting. Let your innovation teams know you are there to work, not just checking in with the drones from your beach house.

(And of course, and many of us have learned the hard way, keep yourself muted when you’re not talking. You don’t want to be the next zoom star.)

Take a break

Take a break when you need it. People understand what breaks are for. I’d rather someone tell me they need a break than sit there silently looking like they need one.

After the Meeting

It’s a nice feeling to crawl into the car or close that laptop after the meeting and be back on your own time, right? Not so fast…

Say thank you

This is a pretty easy one. Let your innovation team and fellow board members know that you appreciate their time. Remember how much time innovators put into their projects, and how much time board members (should!) spend preparing for them. Everyone likes to be appreciated.

Follow up

The meeting isn’t over until you’ve completed your tasks. If you were supposed to make a connection, clear an obstacle, find some extra budget, or just give a more detailed explanation to the team, you must follow up.

The biggest cost of any innovation project is time. So if a team is waiting on you, you are costing the organization money. These tasks are typically very small and sometimes only require an email. So there’s very little excuse to make a team wait a week for you to make an introduction.

Try to block off time the day after an innovation board meeting to make sure you can follow through on any critical tasks.

Innovation Is an Ongoing Process

The most important thing for an innovation team is morale. This is hard work and it’s unbelievably punishing to have to go out into the world, pitch a crazy idea that you love to customer after customer, and be told, again and again, “No.”

If an innovator is doing their job right and rigorously testing their idea, rejection happens on a daily basis. It takes a lot of ‘no’s to get to yes. Click To Tweet

The last thing an innovator needs is to reach the most senior level of their organization and feel like no one cares enough to pay attention.

“Being present,” isn’t just for yoga class. It’s a key part of how you motivate your colleagues and teams. So show up.

 

Lessons Learned

  • Being an innovator is hard work!
  • Innovation boards need to be present and focused.
  • Paying attention and showing up is the best way to respect an innovator.

Special thanks to Elijah Eilert for reviewing and giving feedback on this post.

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