Is innovation important? Let’s change the question. How would you like to read the same blog article over and over again? Of course you wouldn’t! The value of a good blog is to learn something new!
Without a doubt, innovation matters. Lacking a unique product or service offering, it’s difficult to stand out and gain a competitive advantage. At the very least, continuous innovation allows you to stay relevant compared to others in the market. Ultimately, a failure to innovate is a recipe for failure itself in this fast-moving, global economy.
What Role Do You Play?
As a leader, sometimes it seems like the most important innovations happen when you aren’t looking. For example, while you were busy worrying about the upcoming meeting with shareholders, one of your engineers spent the last few weeks glued to that design program or your product manager decided that the market was ready for something new after months of research. In other words, you may feel like you don’t have much of an impact but the truth is as a leader your role is critical. How do you ensure the innovators on your team are doing their thing, day in and day out?
At V2A Solutions, we embrace innovative thinking as a competitive way of being. In fact, we notice that as a leader, you inherently impact the innovation process at your business whether you know it or not. This may make sense intuitively, but if you don’t take the time to intentionally lead in a way that innovation is encouraged, it won’t occur. To that end, let’s take a look at some practical steps you can take to foster innovation in your business.
Simply put, innovation is the creation of something new and improved. It is the ability to see beyond the status quo and consider what might be! Thus, creativity is critical to the innovation process. Again, a very intuitive idea, but not many leaders really make an effort to act in light of that knowledge. They might talk about how they want the organization to be more creative, but they create policies and procedures which squelch the very opportunity for creativity to happen! This often results from an inability to see innovative opportunities or make time to focus on actions and behaviors that promote creativity. After all, creativity can be a little abstract. However, a metric designed by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management can be very useful. Specifically, the Global Creativity Index looks at indicators of the amount of resources devoted to technological advancements, how talent is cultivated, and the level of tolerance a nation displays for minority groups. While these metrics were created for measuring the relative creative competitiveness of various countries, there are certainly lessons to be learned for any business owner.
First, businesses should ask themselves whether they are providing their team with sufficient resources to be innovative. For example, asking R&D to create an amazing new product with a small budget is probably not going to get you anywhere. Put your money where your mouth is and lead with your budget. This takes a measure of faith, but this kind of faith is the catalyst for creativity.
Second, leaders must ask themselves whether they are truly empowering their team to become good innovators. Are they getting the skills and training they need to work collaboratively and produce synergistic results with their fellow employees? What knowledge is needed to reduce set-backs and begin producing the innovative results your business desperately needs?
Third, with respect to tolerance, a leader must ask whether others’ ideas are being respected. After all, for true innovation to take place, the last thing a business needs is groupthink. Again, innovation requires new ideas that often challenge established protocols and norms. Will your employees be willing to speak up and share their unique perspective?
Reframe the Experience of Failure
Consider the story of Thomas Edison. When designing the light bulb, you probably know he failed more times than he succeeded, but with each failure he learned one more way not to make a light bulb. Each failure represented an incremental improvement, driving him closer to his ultimate goal. Shifting how you think about failure will adjust your leadership stance for innovation.
Inherent in the concept of innovation is the risk that must be taken. The status quo may be working, and trying anything but the status quo carries with it the chance for failure. The key is to encourage calculated risks, and when failure takes place, ensure employees learn everything they can from them. Train everyone to see the occasional failure as a learning opportunity.
Shaping Culture and Values
Whether you like it or not, as a leader, you are responsible for the culture of your business. Yes, your employees help you shape that culture, but as a leader you set the tone right from the start. As you probably learned long ago, a company’s culture is directly related to corporate values. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that how people think and act is directly related to what they value. In fact, cultural researchers are often able to explain differences between cultures by pointing to differences in cultural values along various dimensions. For instance, the World Values Survey explained 70% of its recorded variance between different nations’ behavior and attitudes by linking it to the values dominating a country. For example, the degree to which values move in the direction of secular instead of traditional religious values impacts the degree of self-expression and tolerance of divergent lifestyles within a country.
Whether we are talking about a country or a business, the evidence is that values drive action. The best part is, once values are established and live in your business, your team will automatically pursue the right things (based on embraced values) and you won’t have to spend your precious time managing them. Often, rather than establishing annoying policies and procedures, the beliefs and values you promote become a control system built right into your business!
Now ask yourself the role your values play in innovation:
Does my company culture indicate that we value innovation? Do we value creativity? Do we value hard work and critical thinking?
With that said, a critical distinction must be made between stated values and lived values. For example, can a company claim that they value creativity and hard work if there are no performance incentives for innovation? Your culture and values must be aligned and authentically pursue innovation. In fact, we know that your business depends on this reality, and that’s why we’re so passionate about developing leaders with the ability to establish effective belief and value systems within their companies in a way that shapes the culture for innovation.
To learn more about how V2A Leadership principles encourage innovation and the ways your values can be leveraged, contact us. We would enjoy the conversation to discover how innovation can help your business become more profitable and aligned with your dreams.