What makes an enterprise organization successful? Is it a phenomenal understanding of the market? A visionary growth strategy? A value-driven customer focus? A strategy that enables digital transformation, both from a tech standpoint and a culture standpoint? Yes, yes, and yes. So many yesses. But there’s something else, something that would fall into the “all of the above” category: Winning enterprise companies are innovative, keeping them out in front of the curve and always on the cusp of something bigger.
I’ve always been an innovation-first kind of person, and I’d like to focus here on fostering innovation from a leadership perspective. How can senior leadership ensure innovation that goes beyond the generation of a couple of new ideas and turn that into a strategic, guiding principle that touches every part of the company? Here are six ways to do just that.
- Embrace a multi-faceted approach to innovation, starting at the bottom. Often, we think of innovation as something that happens in brainstorming sessions about irresistible new products, developing clever marketing campaigns to launch and sell the heck out of those products, and the like. But take the product out of the equation for a moment, and consider a multi-faceted approach to innovation across your entire organization. Forbes, for example, suggests starting with the “4P’s: profit models, processes, products, and policies.” Breaking innovation down into these factions and tackling them as individual challenges will allow you to move faster and with more operational agility.
- Empower your employees, and they’ll provide value in new ways. Innovation as a corporate value means creating a culture so that every employee feels as though he or she has some level of autonomy—with expectations, of course—to think independently and find new ways to solve problems. Great leaders make smart decisions, but they also know they can’t—and shouldn’t—do it all. Leading is as much about listening, mentoring, trusting, and empowering your teams as it is about anything else.
- Understand that failing is okay. If you’re never failing, chances are you’re not innovating much. Failure is inevitable when you’re fostering a culture of innovation, and that’s part of the challenge—the reality that there’s almost always a degree of uncertainty. Fear has been called an ‘innovation crippler’ and, while no one ever sets out to fail, understanding that it will happen, and that you’ll be just fine when it does, is a mark of a great leader.
- Choose your approach to innovation metrics wisely. We all know data matters, but can you measure something as intangible as an idea? Even harder—an idea culture? You can, as long as you look long and hard at what it is you’re going to actually measure. Whatever your industry, you’ll undoubtedly need numbers on customer activity in relationship to your product or service—that’s a no brainer—but look elsewhere, too. What about the return on your strategic partnerships? How about getting the data on how much time your team actually has to dedicate to discovery? How many of them have been trained on what it means to innovate? Isolate what can change the game for your organization, and build your approach to innovation metrics from there.
- Don’t be afraid to take action—and quickly. To truly create a culture of innovation, you must be willing to encourage action on innovative ideas, not just continuous conceptual chatter. This isn’t to say that every idea is a great one or every new product proposal should directly go to prototyping. Take time to gather data and make an informed decision—but not too much time. Whether you invest more of your resources or take a different path, be agile enough to make those choices in a way that’s confident, measured, and with no more downtime than is absolutely necessary.
- Learn from the past and look to the future. According to Accenture’s 2015 US Innovation Survey, 60 percent of companies admitted they did not learn from past mistakes in relationship to their approach to corporate innovation. That’s a lot! Seventy-two percent of the organizations polled said they often miss opportunities to exploit under-developed areas or markets. Ironically, the same companies indicated they were highly confident in their innovation performance. This discrepancy in perception about what it means to be successful innovating on the corporate level is proof that many leaders don’t take the time to learn from their mistakes. It’s important to fix what isn’t working while moving forward. I know I said failing is okay—and it is—but complacency with failure is not.
The Burning House
The burning house scenario. We’ve all heard of that, right? Your house is on fire—what do you grab as you run out the door? It would be something special, something important, something you couldn’t bear to live without. Now, think about your business. What would you take with you if it all came crashing down? I’d grab the ability to innovate and to inspire innovation in my team—that’s the foundation for growth, the difference maker, the special sauce.
What would you take? What does innovation look like in your organization? Are you approaching it as an idea factory you only visit on occasion, or have you embraced innovation as a strategic imperative? Can you think of any additional ways leaders can create a culture of innovation other than those I’ve mentioned above? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As an aside, if this topic is of interest to you, check out Vincent Brissot’s (HP’s Head of Channel Marketing and Operations) post on this: Visible vs. Invisible Innovation. He makes some really salient points on things you may not be taking into consideration.