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Stop talking, start doing: Leading innovation to get results

August 16, 2017

Over the last several years, we’ve seen an increasing number of senior leaders indicate that innovation is a key priority. Good intentions don’t always lead to positive results, however. When it comes to innovation, leaders set the tone – and behaviour speaks louder than words. If you’re not getting the innovation results you’ve been expecting, it’s time to take a look at your behaviour. There are five ways that leaders can support innovation in their organizations:

#1: Establish a common definition of the word ‘innovation’. Some see taking a competitor’s product or service, tweaking it, and releasing it under their own brand as innovation. Others see innovation as resting solely in the domain of technology, believing non-tech businesses can’t be innovative. By our definition, innovation is a product, service, market or internal system that is meaningful to customers/clients/members, your employees AND your business results while being unique to your organization or industry.

Agreeing on what “innovation” means in your company sets the tone for its future, so make sure that you are clear on your definition.

#2: Make innovation a defined element of the strategic plan. Often, we expect innovation to be done within a functional department (aka. Marketing, Product Development, Design, etc.). As such, we don’t state it on the plan as a priority and simply ‘trust’ that the function/department is doing what it needs to. If we applied that logic across other functions, senior leaders wouldn’t be interested in cash flow statements and balance sheets because we would assume the Finance team knows what they need to do. When you look at it that way, it sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? What senior leader doesn’t want to see financials?

We want visibility of those things so we can identify early if we are off track and need to adjust our course. Including innovation on your strategic plan provides it with the visibility and priority it needs if it’s going to help your company drive the bottom line.

#3: Establish innovation metrics and monitor them. If your organization doesn’t measure innovation, how do you know how effective you are? If your company is going to take innovation seriously, establishing key metrics that will help your organization understand the effectiveness of innovation is key.

(Not sure where to start when it comes to measuring innovation? Our webinar goes into detail about the innovation metrics you should consider.)

#4: Quit using uncertainty, legislation/regulation and ‘risk’ as an excuse. Let’s be honest, innovation can be uncomfortable in a number of ways. At its core, innovation has some level of uncertainty associated with it. While you’ll never eliminate all of the uncertainty, a solid innovation system will manage it using rapid cycles of learning and math modeling to ensure resources aren’t being thrown at the wrong innovations.

Innovation is often seen as “scary” because it drives change in organizations, and change needs to be managed well. A solid innovation system will help organizations effectively manage change by engaging diverse teams of employees throughout the process to solicit input and generate buy in.

#5: Examine your personal role in innovation and adjust your leadership accordingly. We can plaster our walls with posters about innovation and talk about innovation at meetings, but that doesn’t make it real. If your actions outside of those meetings or beyond those posters are not aligned with what you ‘say’, your actions will speak louder than your words.

We have to lead differently if we want a different result. An effective leader who wants to foster innovation will:

  • give up some control, creating a safe environment for employees to collaborate;
  • encourage employees to try new things and make mistakes;
  • position failure as learning
  • measure progress and ask the right questions to keep people on track;
  • recognize and incent the right behaviours (ex. encouraging collaboration but providing bonuses or promotions based on individual contributions is contradictory and won’t get you the results you want).

The bottom line is this: If you want to make innovation real in your organization, it starts with leadership, strategy, and the intestinal fortitude to drive change. The modern leader needs to be ready to lead innovation, but developing the right habits and behaviours to support it is key. How ready are you?

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