Perspectives

Leading for Innovation: Setting your Teams up for Success

Innovation. A word which seems to be very much on business leaders’ agendas at the moment.
Innovation. A word which seems to be very much on business leaders’ agendas at the moment.
Leading a team for innovation
Whether it’s technological advances, new service processes or revising an approach to people engagement; organisations around the world recognise the fundamental impact innovation has on their business and market sector.

In fact, research from business consultants, PA Consulting, found that two-thirds of CEOs did not believe their company would survive without innovation. Despite this, half of those surveyed, said they lacked ‘faith in their leaders’ ability to deliver innovation.’

For innovation to be a success, it requires strong leadership. Leaders who understand that they need to inspire their teams to make fresh thinking part of the day-to-day. Leaders who create the right cultures, right structures and right environments for innovations to move from idea to implementation.

So how, as a leader, can you set your team up for success and ensure they are given every opportunity to release their creative energies? We believe it’s a three-step process.

1. Create a culture of innovation

Innovation is top of the business agenda, with lots of organisations stressing they are, or wish to be, an innovative company. However, if you look carefully at their cultures, you often find that they don’t have the structures or cultural environment in place to enable or even empower their people to be creative.

Having spent time with some of the World’s most innovative businesses – including Google, IDEO and P&G – we have seen first-hand what it takes to build an innovation culture. We call these our Must Bees of Innovation Culture (link to blog on how to create an innovation culture in six steps):

  1. Bee clear about who you are – what are your values, your purpose. Why do you exist?
  2. Bee clear about who you want to hire – where are those with the right cultural fit?
  3. Bee in your customers’ shoes – how close are you to your customers?
  4. Bee upfront about your culture – how will you encourage, enforce and enable creativity to flourish and use your culture as a competitive advantage?
  5. Bee structured – creativity loves constraint, how will you set the framework?
  6. Bee rebellious – how will you encourage calculated risk-taking and communicate the permission to innovate?

Only by asking yourselves these questions and ensuring you have the right mindset will you create a culture which encourage continuous creativity.

2. Strengthen innovation capability

You wouldn’t expect someone to recite a story until they had been taught to read. So why would you expect your teams can come up with ideas before they have been shown how to do it?

Once you have the right culture in place, you then must equip your people to innovate. Teaching them, through practical application, what innovation is; how they can have ideas in your business; and then, how to take these from inception to completion. This is about building their capability so that they are confident, curious and collaborate in the right way; making innovation part of their day-to-day. For more on this, read our blog on building innovation capability.

3. Be open and transparent

One of the greatest killers of innovation is when leaders unconsciously discourage creativity. What we mean is, they spend a lot of time encouraging idea generation yet, when provided with an array of suggestions from their people, they either put them in a pile and forget about them, decide they are not realistic though provide no feedback or simply don’t communicate with the employees who came forward with the idea. The ideas fall into an organisational blackhole, never to be seen again. Over time, this lack of engagement with employee creativity puts people off contributing their thoughts.

Innovation can only be achieved when communication channels are open and transparent. Be open about the business challenges faced, create different ways for people to offer their thoughts on how these can be solved, and then listen deeply. If an idea has legs, bring together a cross-function working group to evolve and develop for implementation. If it doesn’t, then provide honest feedback to the source.

If businesses want to achieve the growth and profitability which comes with being an innovative business (PWC found this to be three-times higher than non-innovating companies), then recognising the role of leaders in innovation is business critical. If you’d like to find out more about how you can lead and equip people for innovation in your business. Give us a buzz.

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