Professional Services

Innovation champions in the professional services

In the professional services, it takes an innovation champion to successfully develop and implement new services. Because new service and new business development do not revolve around the development of things only. To be of value, they must become part of a valuable service offering. The professionals who are going to develop and apply the new services, must be the drivers of the innovation process. They will be your innovation champions. 

Innovation champions

Think about the latest technology your IT department head suggested you all use. How did that work out? Is everyone taking full advantage of the technology? Or does its implementation resemble the cartoon below, with your IT department head and your professionals being frustrated? The IT department head, because the opportunity is misunderstood. While your professionals are frustrated, because of the additional workload without clear understanding of the potential benefits.

Purchasing a new technology and then expecting your professional to apply these in their workflow or practices, is not effective nor an efficient way to develop new services 1. Like it or not, you will have to engage professionals in the new service development process. In addition, you will have to make it so enticing, that everyone is eager to champion these projects.

Having your professionals become innovation champion is very doable. With some training and support, being an innovation champion is rewarding, advances the person’s career, and leads to enduring client relationships.

Professionals have a key role to play

The key role of professionals in the innovation process is confirmed in several research studies. Floortje Blindenbach-Driessen and Jan van den Ende 2,3 found that innovation champions play a pivotal role in the innovation projects of engineering firms and consultancies. Others found that an innovation champion acts as the socializing agent, to get things implemented4. Anecdotal evidence also suggests the pivotal role of innovation champions. For example, physicians play a key role, in all the successful healthcare transformation cases Trimble discusses in his book on how to fix healthcare 5.

Off the shelf vendor solutions


Vendors certainly also play an important role in the new service development process of professional service organizations. Their off-the-shelf solutions help providers to work more effectively and efficiently. However, given the complexity of professional services, such pre-packaged innovative solutions still leave professionals with the task to incorporate these offerings in their practices. Thus, even implementing off-the-shelve solutions requires time commitment of professionals to make it work.

Training and support

By providing professionals with the appropriate training and resources, they become able to take on the role of innovation champion.

The education professionals received made them experts in their profession. However, when it comes to new business development, they often lack the appropriate skill set. They never learned how to transform their ideas into valuable business opportunities. Fortunately with training and coaching, this problem can easily be solved.

Return on investment

New business development education and support pay for themselves in several ways. Typically, only the time it saves your professionals, already pays for the training and coaching expenditures. For example, a team without any support spends 2 hours on a project for 6 months (50 hours per person). Compare that with our online course. The teams participating in this program spend about 3 hours per person per week for a duration of 6 weeks (18 hours per person) and get to better outcomes.

With quicker development times, the pay back will be sooner too.

In addition, by using a structured approach, differentiating between more and less promising projects is easier , saving the organization from investing a lot of time and money in projects that lead nowhere.

In short, by providing training or coaching, your innovation champions will be successful. That way, new business development becomes an activity everyone wants to engage in and that pays for itself in terms of new revenue streams, happy clients and happy employees.

Time commitment

The time of your professionals is the scarcest resource in the organization. Your most talented professionals are busy taking care of today’s workload and bringing in revenue. Today’s urgent demands don’t leave time to prepare for tomorrow. Yet, without setting some time aside today to address the needs of tomorrow’s customers, your profitability, growth and client satisfaction will stall and decline eventually.

It does not take a lot of time. By freeing up 2 to 3 hours a week, for a limited period of time, the work gets done. Even small amounts of dedicated time deliver results.

However, provide these blocks of time only for those with interest and who deserve to be an innovation champion.

The talented professionals chosen to be innovation champions get the opportunity to invest in the organization and themselves. That way, investing in new business development reduces attrition rates of your most talented professionals.

Being and innovation champion also requires some personal time commitment. That is, innovation champions need to have skin in the game. When it is rewarding, participating is worth the investment. Your professionals are curious and ambitious by nature. They will be eager to engage when new business development is aligned with their personal interests and provides the opportunity to advance their careers.

Whom to select for the task?

Who are going to be your innovation champions? Your benchwarmers or your top talent?


In professional service organizations with a fee for service model, there are always so-called “benchwarmers”. That is, people who are not (fully) assigned to a customer contract.

One department head wanted to provide these “benchwarmers” with the opportunity to be involved in new service development. Unfortunately, this model does not work out very well. It did not for this department head.

When paid work became available, the benchwarmers got pulled off the new business development project. As a consequence, none of the new business development activities delivered results. With constantly changing teams, doing a good job was impossible. Eventually the projects were put on hold indefinitely.

Using new business development as a past-time for benchwarmers sent a strong negative signal to employees: New business development is a secondary activity in our department. We don’t take it very seriously and it never gets priority over paid work.

In this Benchwarmer case, the organization invested in the wrong people and the wrong ideas. Even worse, over time, the firm lost their talented professionals. They became frustrated too. They didn’t get the opportunity to explore their ideas, since they were moving from paid assignment to paid assignment.

A task for you best and brightest

Compare that with another company. Here new business development is an investment in the company and its employees. Only the best and brightest get the opportunity to use their talents and develop the next generation of service for the firms. In this organization, it is a honor to work on a new business development task.

Since new business development defines the future of your organization, you want to select your best and smartest for the innovation champion task. In that sense, new business development is akin to personal development. Yet with the difference that the purpose is to develop the professional and to create your next generation services. New business development is personal development on steroids, as it contributes to the growth of your talent and your organization.

Not sure where and how to start?

Not sure how this could work in your organization? Yet, interested in learning more? Please feel free to contact us for a free consultation with Dr Blindenbach-Driessen. Discuss with her, how to make innovation champion the most sought after and rewarding job opportunity there is in your organization.


  1. Blindenbach-Driessen F, Van den Ende J. The Locus of Innovation: The Effect of a Separate Innovation Unit on Exploration, Exploitation, and Ambidexterity in Manufacturing and Service Firms. J. Prod. Innovation Manage. 2014.
  2. Blindenbach-Driessen F, Van den Ende J. Innovation in project-based firms; The context dependency of success factors. Research Policy. 2006;35:545-561.
  3. Blindenbach-Driessen F, Van den Ende J. Innovation management practices compared: The example of project-based firms. J. Prod. Innovation Manage. 2010;27(5):705-724.
  4. Anand N, Gardner HK, Morris T. Knowledge-Based Innovation: Emergence and Embedding of New Practice Areas in Management Consulting Firms. Acad. Manage. J. 2007;50(2):406-428.
  5. Trimble C. How Physicians Can Fix Health Care: One Innovation at a Time. Tampa, Florida: American Association for Phyician Leadership; 2015.