The pace of digital disruption is increasing by the day. And as the saying goes, change is the only constant.
Digital disruption challenges business models, alters workplaces and brings career paths into question. To survive in this new normal world, organizations must constantly innovate. Those that do stand to succeed, while those that don't risk becoming irrelevant.
The ability to innovate is no longer relegated to the Ubers or Googles of the world — it is a survival factor for all businesses.
Innovation must cover every facet of an organization's activity. Internally, businesses must challenge all methods of work to determine whether they are adding maximum value. Externally, they must evaluate and improve product and service offerings to ensure they are meeting evolving market demands.
Senior leaders hold the key to innovation's success within their organization. Without their direction and clear support, innovation won’t happen.
True innovation requires a level of risk-taking and failure that’s impossible without this top-down support. Unfortunately, two common leadership traits can greatly inhibit innovation within any organization:
1. Solution Leadership
Those who reach the ranks of senior management tend to be strong, confident individuals. They often achieve that top position because they took responsibility and solved problems along the way.
Many of these leaders take a solution leadership approach. They use their skills and experience to solve problems and dictate which paths to follow and which projects to complete.
While this may get the job done in the short-term, it doesn't help when it comes to innovation. A leader who gets personally involved in every area and makes all key decisions thwarts innovation. It requires a different approach.
Innovation takes trust.
Leaders need to learn to let go, and encourage buy-in and participation from everyone within their organization. They need to help their teams understand that innovation is a team effort, and that those involved will have the support and freedom they require to make it happen.
If they don’t, their teams won’t have the confidence to take on risk and contribute to exploring new, innovative ideas.
2. Sending Mixed Signals
Innovation, by its nature, involves a risk of failure. Senior managers may not realize it, but they provide subtle signals to their teams that can significantly impact an innovation project's likelihood of success.
For example, senior executives who focus on short-term performance targets rather than longer-term goals can cause their teams to question whether they should risk potential failures in search of longer-term improvement opportunities. As a result, innovative ideas are left unexplored.
Executives may also send mixed messages by offering incentives geared to short-term deadlines. This can dissuade staff from spending time on any activity that will not help them meet their quarterly numbers.
Another strong signal occurs when senior managers reassign senior staff away from innovation teams and projects. This suggests to the teams that leaders are not taking the initiative seriously or treating it as a priority. Teams might take the hint that it's not worth their time and effort to continue to participate, and shift their focus elsewhere.
Managing Innovation Requires a Different Approach
To encourage and drive innovation, senior leaders need to commit to a different management approach. They need to step up and lead by example, sending strong, consistent signals.
Everyone in the organization must understand that innovation is a priority. Make it clear that the business will support and enable innovation as a long-term goal because it has the power to help drive growth, expansion and competitive advantage.
In a world of constant disruption, an innovative culture is no longer an optional organizational asset. Simply put, unless the executive leadership team make innovation a priority, it will not happen.