Indeed, most leadership teams are very interested in establishing a discernible advantage in the marketplace. However, few truly understand that sustainable differentiation comes with the creation of a culture of innovation--and that that starts with them.
Here's the thing, leaders set the tone. It's their behaviors that dictates culture. Everyone in the place is watching them. Every subtlety in gesture, every turn of phrase has meaning, whether deliberate or not. Combine this with the fact that it is culture which determines the values, behaviors and actions of the people that comprise the organization and you quickly understand that the establishment of a culture of innovation starts with them. It just won't happen by simply telling staff to be innovative. Clearly, more is needed.
Here's a simple framework to consider to set the stage for the business transformation needed to build a culture of innovation:
1. Leadership Conduct: As mentioned the forging of a culture of innovation starts with you! Are you walking the talk? Do you encourage "out of the comfort zone" thinking and behavior? Punish those that take risks? Or, salute those that are ambitious and willing to try something new to benefit the business? Innovation your job, too. Be sure the demonstrate that through your words and actions.
2. Commitment Symbols: What are the symbols that you have in place that validate the firm's commitment to innovation? Posters, desk placards, streaming banners in company intranet sites that promote innovative thinking and behavior are all symbols that reinforce the notion that this company is about innovation.
A recent client took this idea in a new and rousing direction. They staged a signing ceremony, where the top and middle management tiers came together before the rest of the company and exhibited their commitment to the firm's renewed agenda of innovation by signing their name to a set of banners which summarized their vision and business principles. Copies of the signed banners were then brought back to each respective department and staff were then invited, as a symbol of their individual commitment to the vision, to sign the banners, as well. Great stuff and very effective.
3. Organizational Support Constructs: With the understanding that innovation just doesn't happen, have you taken the steps necessary to empower your people to practice, and, be innovative? Are their dedicated places available in the organization where like-minded staff can meet and collaborate on breakthrough ideas? Time allocation, can staff take time each week to work on new ideas and concepts? If you don't promote and enable it, innovation won't occur - in fact, to do otherwise, you will be unintentionally delivering a tremendously loud message that innovation is not allowed.
4. Innovation Enablement: What steps are you taking to support the process of innovation? Are there tools and technology in place that facilitate collaboration and idea sharing? Have you built toolkits, established standards or developed idea piloting programs that let your staff's best thinking be shared, improved, and tested? If the answer is no, you're not doing all that is needed to create an environment that enables innovation.
5. Execution Integration: What happens to good ideas? Are there mechanisms in place that assists in integrating new ideas into the appropriate channels within the Company? Yes, many innovations are not directly associated with the introduction of new products and services. In fact, many great innovations improve internal operations. So, how easy it for internally-focused innovations weaved into the workplace? How easy it is to introduce new products and services for sale? Are these processes connected?
6. Motivational Elements: Do you reward breakthrough thinking? Are the most innovative among us recognized and praised for their pioneering spirit? What are you doing to inspire those so inclined to innovate? Do your actions, like punishing ill-informed risk-taking, have the effect of keeping your staff in their box on the organization chart? If so, it's time to change that and to take steps that applaud new ways of thinking and doing.
To close, this is a simple framework intended to help shape the needed conversation that must be had to create a culture of innovation. If you need some help with furthering the thinking that underpins this framework, please reach out directly. I welcome the opportunity to help.