Companies need to innovate in order to remain competitive. Today's and tomorrow’s leaders need to create and sustain an environment that fosters creativity and innovation. Yet, in a leadership study we recently conducted, 34% of respondents said the area they most needed to improve was Innovation. The second highest-ranking area of need was Resolving Conflicts. (22%)
Innovation has a target on it’s back. A number of institutional factors can kill innovation along the way. Here are a few well-known enemies:
• Risk-Averse Leaders - Leadership is intimidated by innovation
• Culture/history - “That’s the way it’s always been”, or “That’s just how we do it here”
• Bureaucracy - Multiple layers of approvals in order to make a change
• Workload – No bandwidth to try new things
• Budget - No money for new development or to explore new options
A true leader can overcome all of the obstacles above and get their organization to innovate. Here are things great leaders do to create an environment that welcomes and encourages innovation:
Create the Drive
A great leader creates purpose by focusing on the right things. Innovation needs to be one of those things. Growth occurs by linking innovation to the strategy.
Be an Example
Company history and culture may not encourage innovation or challenging the status quo. Leaders need to set the example by pushing the boundaries and seeking change.
Build the Culture
Nothing kills change faster than lack of recognition, or the wrong kind of recognition – criticism. Great leaders recognize and reward innovation. They also have productive discussions around attempted innovations that were less effective, or maybe failed outright, and point out what can be learned.
A leader who encourages innovation should do everything possible to remove existing barriers such as excessive bureaucracy, lack of time, minimal resources and poor feedback. Enabling decision making at the lowest possible level will help tame bureaucracy. Increase time by scheduling a monthly meeting to discuss possible areas of innovation. Leaders need to be able to demonstrate the ROI for increasing the innovation budget.
The biggest barrier of all is lack of proper feedback. If someone is new at innovation, he or she will benefit from guidance and direction. A good leader will stay plugged into the process and provide coaching and feedback.