• Peter Attwood

Leaders Supporting Innovation

Updated: May 6, 2019

What needs to be done to create the conditions for an innovation environment?

Despite the many barriers to embracing innovation, that I spoke of in my last article, leaders are the major influencers of innovation for every organisation.  They can create a culture that reinforces ideas and brings the best to fruition.

The Conference Board CEO Challenges in 2011 found that Innovation had been established as the key component of business growth, and it has expanded exponentially in more recent years.

Innovation needs to be integral to the Business Plan and be an organisation wide commitment.

There may need to be structure or process changes to move from the idea to successful implementation.

Here are some key questions for leaders to consider:

• How do we move from a culture of calculated risk aversion to one of calculated risk taking?• What combination of innovation categories has the highest payoff eg: product, services, business model?

• What are the ways that deeper customer and stakeholder insights can help guide better success rates?

When facing innovation challenges of risk aversion and lacklustre ideas, a leader needs to inspire curiosity, question assumptions, challenge current perspectives, and create freedom and experimentation.   In relation to changing demand, a leader needs to reflect on the nature of their business, and ask the question, what business are we really in?

Sinar, Wellins and Pactone in their DDI Research article* have identified 20 leadership behaviours to encourage innovation, under the main headings of Inspiring Curiosity, Challenging Current

Inspiring Curiosity by challenging employees:

• to vigorously engage with customer interests, needs and motivations • to ongoingly expand their understanding of business trends and emerging issues • to question their assumptions and take unfamiliar perspectives • to regularly observe and interact with suppliers and other industry players • to spend more time understanding stakeholder views rather than problem solving

Challenging Current Perspectives:

• show openness and appreciation of unique ideas and opinions • encourage exploration of new possibilities through thought provoking questions

• promote cross functional collaboration to generate new ideas • ensure active and passionate debate on the value of new concepts

• encourage frequent brainstorming sessions to drive and develop initiatives

Creating Freedom with employees by:

• creating a culture where mistakes and failures are reframed as learning opportunities

• giving them full scope to choose the best path for goals accomplishment • empowering them to pursue ideas autonomously, without needing approval • creating abundant opportunities to take action on their ideas • supporting their decisions, even if not based on extensive analysis

Driving Discipline:

• champion the merits of employee-initiated ideas to senior management

• connect employees with new projects with others who can assist them

• provide structured tools and techniques to enhance creativity

• promote employee driven research and experimentation to iteratively improve new concepts

• ensure designated time away from core activities to stimulate new ideas.

These guidelines provide a valuable framework to shift your current culture to one where innovation and creativity are encouraged, and ideas are implemented. Not only will this enhance your business opportunities, but the culture will motivate and inspire your people to be the best they can be.

Are you willing to take the plunge?

*Sinar, Welllins and Pactone, DDI Research, Creating conditions for sustainable innovation.

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