time lapse image of driving a car at night
PHOTO: Samuele Errico Piccarini

There was a time when the drive, need and even ability to innovate was left to tech-centric entities like Google, Apple and Amazon. Those days are long gone. Now innovation has become a survival factor for most, if not all, businesses regardless of type or background.

Innovation has become a necessary mainstay that touches an organization’s activity at every point, from sales to accounting to operations. One of the buzzwords in this evolving climate is “maximum value.” Every aspect of work is being held up and examined to determine if it is meeting that goal. The continual improvement cycle necessitates an ongoing evaluations of processes, products and services to ensure high-performing companies remain competitive and able to meet ever changing market demands.

As digital disruption steadily increases, the burden of leading the charge of innovation lies squarely on the shoulders of an organization’s senior leadership team.

Promoting Innovation

With clear direction and support from leaders, employees can feel empowered to pursue new ideas that lead to innovative advancements. Enabling teams to unleash their creativity and giving them the freedom to take the risks that come with true innovation will result in advancement and success for both the employees and the organization.

Leadership teams need to look for strategies and incentives that will make innovation part of their organizational culture. They must do away with old ideas and outdated practices, which can present barriers to the creation and growth of an innovative culture. By embracing the changes that are happening around them and incorporating them into their leadership toolbox, leaders can become better equipped to promote innovation.

Related Article: How to Design an Effective Digital Innovation Campaign

Empower Your Team

Individuals who are in senior management positions tend to have very specific personality traits that make them very good at what they do. They are confident, goal oriented, focused and strong — all great characteristics for managers who get things done. They are usually adept at problem solving and are accustomed to calling the shots.

At some level, this works. But when it comes to introducing and encouraging innovation within an organization, it is completely ineffective. While the solution leadership approach may work for some areas of a business, it can be an innovation killer. The leader who promotes innovation will not get personally involved in every project and will definitely not be the one making all the key decisions. They will take a completely different approach that may seem foreign or even counterintuitive at first.

Promoting innovation requires leaders to take a step back and trust their team to make good decisions. Not only must they let go, but they must also encourage team members to express their ideas and act on them, while imparting the powerful message that innovation is a team effort. This instils confidence in the team, confidence that will allow them to take the necessary risks and make valuable contributions by exploring their own and others’ innovative ideas.

Related Article: Everyday Innovation: Small Steps to Big Progress

Send a Clear, Positive Message

Innovation brings with it a risk of failure. While it is up to the leadership team to inspire and motivate teams, it involves much more than putting on a good face. What some senior managers don’t realize is their actions don’t always line up with their words. While they may be talking pro innovation they could still be giving off subtle signals that don’t convey a positive attitude. This can derail innovative efforts very quickly.  

As senior executives, you need to ensure you are sending a clear message to your teams. They should not have to question the way they handle a project or what targets they should or should not pursue because your message is unclear. Say what you mean and mean what you say, then consciously demonstrate it on a regular basis.

For example, moving or reassigning senior staff, especially mid-project, can be a barrier to innovation because it sends a message to the team that in spite of claims to the contrary, innovation is not supported. This can cause teams to feel it really isn’t worth the time or effort to pursue innovative projects. The remedy to this is to assign specific leadership to innovation projects and let them stay there.

Related Article: Why a Digital Mindset Is Key to Digital Transformation

New Innovative Horizons Require New Innovative Mindsets

Innovative ideas can come from anywhere within an organization, but an innovative culture needs to be fostered and sustained from the top. Senior leaders must make a conscious effort to drive and encourage innovation within their teams. This requires a different approach to management, new tools and a fresh leadership style that empowers teams and delivers a clear, consistent message. It is up to leaders to set the tone, and to be examples themselves of the innovative culture they are creating.