Ignite the Innovation Flame

Innovation is important– no matter what industry you’re in.

Some may say innovation is a buzzword, but leaders need to keep an eye out for new and exciting ways to do so that they can grow, thrive, and survive in an ever-changing business environment. After all, you can’t solve new problems with old solutions.

Leaders can’t just skip to the fun, though. They need to cultivate an innovation culture that encourages (and inspires!) everyone. To do this, leaders must understand their role, any behaviors that drive innovation, and how to sustain that kind of culture once it’s created.

The relationship between leadership & innovation

Great leadership is based on examples and influence, not authority. Yes, you may be in a leadership role, but fostering an innovative culture requires rethinking your role.

The most innovative leaders shape capabilities in others. Yes, formal leaders are in positions of authority, but it isn’t just about getting people to follow you to the future. It’s also about getting them to co-create with you.

It takes a different kind of leadership, where leaders must behave more like teammates and less like employers if they want their teams to innovate. After all, innovation is driven by people’s ideas and energy! The best ideas come from inspiration, passion, and motivation. Think about it – do you do your best when someone tells you to do so, or because of collaboration and influence?

Creating a culture of innovation

The best leaders know that to cultivate a culture of innovation, they must adhere to the saying, “A rising tide raises all boats.” In other words, they lift each individual by helping them unleash their unique capabilities so they can bring their own slice of talent to the team pie. Once those slices unite, the team can share ideas, collaborate, experiment, and learn together.

Building this kind of culture takes work, though! Leaders must invest their time and energy into:

  1. Developing the culture through an ongoing process of inspiration and leadership, powered by genuine messages and real examples that link innovation to the company’s purpose. You can do this by uniting your people through shared values and enabling them to collaborate toward the company purpose. Managers and/or team leads should also encourage their teams to take this step since every team has a purpose that fits into the overall purpose of the organization.
  2. Fostering team behaviors. The most innovative teams share specific behaviors, such as learning, creativity, risk-taking, proactivity, self-motivation, and learning from their mistakes. These behaviors fuel innovation and push people to overcome their fear of change. Each behavior plays an essential role, such as how tolerance transforms failures into learning opportunities or how creativity leads to imaginative ideas.
  3. Creating an environment that enables collaboration, trust, openness, purposefulness, healthy competition, and safety. Innovation requires working together and being open to different points of view. People need to trust each other, their leaders, and the process, and be open to allowing everyone to participate and ensuring all ideas are given a fair chance.

Sustain the culture

Innovative cultures are known to be fun and exciting. They’re characterized as highly collaborative, non-hierarchical (working with someone, not for someone), trusting, and filled with new ideas to be excited about! Here’s the catch – they’re also hard to sustain.

The characteristics that make cultures fun are “easy-to-like.” Think about it—people often like trust and openness because they feel safe sharing their ideas. But these characteristics are only one side of the coin and must be counterbalanced with some tough love. Leaders can sustain a culture of innovation with systems and processes that allow:

  • Tolerance for failure but no tolerance for incompetence. Here, an organization may have a performance system that moves people into new roles due to lacking skills essential for innovation, or they have clear standards for performance to follow.
  • Willingness to experiment but highly disciplined. For instance, a process could be in place that allows leaders to evaluate data and change course based on the experiment’s data.
  • Safe and open but deeply candid. An organization may have a peer feedback program that allows candid feedback or a “rule of engagement” that pushes people to ask for feedback.
  • Collaboration but with individual accountability. Team members are not collaborating constantly. Each person has tasks and responsibilities that require personal accountability. People must also make decisions based on their work and own a poor decision’s consequences. Unless individuals take accountability, no lessons can be learned, and growth will stagnate.
  • Non-hierarchical but with strong leadership. A lack of hierarchy doesn’t mean a lack of leadership. People may have more freedom to act, voice their opinions, and make decisions, but they also experience more chaos without strong leadership. For example, Google pushes decision-making down to all employee levels so people can pursue innovative ideas. Google also has strong leaders who communicate goals and set clear priorities and direction.

Stay ahead of the curve

Innovation impacts a company’s position. The most innovative companies stay flexible, grow constantly, and stand out from the crowd.

Consider Blockbuster and Netflix (we all know the story!). Netflix put innovation at the forefront while Blockbuster … well, they created roadblocks that busted them. Jokes aside, Netflix has plowed on ahead and constantly finds new ways to grow and adapt.

Innovation is fun, exciting, and filled with benefits, but it’s easier said than done. Take time to cultivate it and watch your company reap the rewards.


Content provided by Q4intelligence

Photo by nexusplexus