Driving Executive Innovation for a Better Future: Shaping the Path Forward was originally published on Ivy Exec.
In a recent survey, 84% of executives said innovation was necessary for continued success.
With this objective in mind, 62% of quickly-expanding organizations said they planned to fund innovative initiatives at their organizations.
While innovation is certainly a goal for many organizations, it, unfortunately, isn’t always a reality. The 2020 Annual Business Survey found that only about a quarter of businesses introduced one innovation from 2017 to 2019. Of these, 11% rolled out one or more product innovations, while 22% developed a new business process development.
These two studies demonstrate a discrepancy between the goal and the reality of innovation in their organizations. Why is there such a disconnect between this interest in innovation and its actualization?
David Magellan Horth, senior fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership, said that some leaders think innovation comes from only one person or a certain department.
“Innovation is rarely a single idea with one person driving it. There are usually other people involved. Sometimes they don’t get the press they deserve,” he said.
Another problem is that daily operations often take priority over overhauling ideas.
“The choice tends to be ‘let’s run today’s business’ – even if innovation is a concern at the top’ – because that’s what we’re measured on.’ We have to do both,” Horth said.
With this idea in mind, what can executives do to ensure they’re centering transformation and development?
Build an innovative team.
One of the best ways to drive innovation is to hire and develop employees who develop new practices and products.
Wharton Business School describes one organization that discovered the qualities inherent to out-of-the-box thinkers.
“Traits that are typically difficult to develop, such as conceptual thinking and a consistent focus on end-user needs, became the focus of hiring new talent; traits considered easier to develop, such as technical product knowledge and presentation skills, were incorporated in training,” they note.
Another way to assemble a team that drives innovation is by increasing your employee diversity. Diversity can be a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities, and races, but it should also take different professional backgrounds and ways of thinking into consideration.
For instance, perhaps you could consider if a candidate’s background in another field would actually be relevant to a different role.
Sener’s former innovation manager Ernö Péter explained, “The three people who form part of the core are different in terms of professional and life experience as well as generational level, but that is precisely the virtue of a team that has its great meeting point in the passion for innovation, engineering, and technology.”
Create a culture of innovation.
After you assemble an innovation-focused team, the next step is to ensure cutting-edge thinking is part of your routine.
Rather than expecting that new thinking will come naturally, a better idea is integrating processes that encourage out-of-the-box ideas.
Writing for Inc., Joel Comm suggests accepting ideas from employees at all levels.
“[Create] a culture in which every team member has the opportunity to develop proposals, no matter how small or big. These ideas could range from automating a customer service process to creating a new product. The key is that team members feel their ideas are weighed and considered,” he suggested.
He also advised adding time for brainstorming and group exploration so that employees had the mental bandwidth necessary for new ideas.
Reward risk-taking – even if these risks lead to failure.
Another aspect of spurring innovation includes supporting risk-taking – and the inevitable failures that come with new ideas.
If you want to be a growth leader, you need to adopt the mindset that you learn more from your losses than your successes, especially if you figure out what isn’t working.
“Growth leaders are also more likely to manage innovation risks by making small bets and taking cues from startups, using concepts such as rapid prototyping, frugal experimentation, and lean methodologies,” says Wharton.
In the same vein, make sure you aren’t punishing employees who take risks that don’t pan out. For instance, if you put a “failed” team on a less-fulfilling project, then you’re showing them that they’ll only be rewarded if they’re successful.
If you do this, says Box’s [co-founder and CEO] Aaron Levie, “People are going to start to think they should only work on high-profile, low-risk projects that are assured of success,” he says. Then, over time, “the company is going to stop doing innovative, interesting things.”
Centering Innovation at Your Organization
Many organizations philosophically prioritize innovation but don’t implement practices emphasizing innovation at their organizations.
The cornerstones of meaningful innovation include hiring an entrepreneurial and diverse team, integrating cutting-edge strategies into work-as-usual, and encouraging risk-taking.
Continue learning about innovation by reading our guest article from Goizueta Business School at Emory University titled “Why Learning is a Cornerstone of Innovative Leadership.”