In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, business leaders are keenly aware of the need to continuously innovate in order to remain competitive. Here we provide three tips on how leaders can unlock innovation.
Innovation is vital on two fronts: firstly, companies need to offer improved products and services to retain market share and sustain profitable growth. If they don’t, they put themselves at risk of being outmanoeuvred by the competition. Secondly, they need to innovate internally, increasing the efficiency of their operations and improving their ways of working. This can help to reduce costs and keep employees happy.
Good leaders also understand that innovation must be strategic, and not just “innovation for innovation’s sake”. Any innovation initiative, be it upskilling in innovative ways of working or developing a new product or service line, must be oriented towards meeting the organization’s mission and objectives. As a minimum, innovation must aim to create value for both the organization and its customers.
With these elements in mind, what should leaders do to improve their organizations’ innovation potential?
Innovation Tip 1: Practice What You Preach
“Practice what you preach” should be every leader’s mantra for fomenting any kind of change in their organization. In many organizations, employees frequently emulate the behaviors of their hierarchical superiors—after all, that does appear to be the way to move up in the organization. Moreover, employees can feel disgruntled if they are frequently told to do focus on something by managers who have little interest in performing the behavior themselves.
So it is with innovation: if leaders want to encourage innovation within their organization, they must consciously and consistently show a firm commitment to this goal. They must support and champion innovative projects and adopt new and innovative ways of working themselves.
Innovation Tip 2: Create an Innovation Culture
Leaders must also create a true innovation culture within their organizations. This can be broken down into several kinds of actions to take.
Firstly, are there sufficient resources and incentives to innovate? Innovation teams, but also employees more broadly, need to be given enough time and budget to be able to experiment with new ideas. In many organizations, collaborators are expected to come up with brilliant ideas but have very little time to do any creative thinking outside the demands of their daily roles. Incentives, such as innovation competitions, can also encourage employees to share new ideas.
Secondly, managers need to actively accept that failure is sometimes inevitable: not every new idea will become the next iPhone. They must refrain from insisting on a strong return on investment for every single new idea that is piloted: some of these are bound to be non-starters. Rather, employees need to be encouraged to try again—perhaps the next idea will be the right one.
Innovation Tip 3: Equip Teams with the Right Tools
Finally, leaders must make sure that teams are given the right tools and methodologies to be able to innovate. Different tools will be appropriate for different kinds of innovation; Blue Ocean Strategy is fantastic for strategic or business model innovation, whereas Design Thinking can bring organizations closer to their customers’ wants and needs.
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StratX ExL has been helping leaders foster innovation in their organization for over 30 years. Start your Innovation Learning Journey by accessing our free interactive innovation white paper today.