In the business world of past years, companies that created a monopoly on a particular technology such as Polaroid, or a customer market such as Blockbuster, or a universally recognized brand such as Eastman Kodak were guaranteed to be profitable and successful for many years into the future. However, upheavals in industries due to disruptive new technologies, changes in consumer tastes for products and intense competition as markets have opened up to global competitors have created uncertainty and unpredictability where no company can rest on its laurels. Organizations are now must constantly innovate and be open to creative ways of doing things in order to remain competitive and profitable.
These days everything is about innovation. Innovation is not about changing things for the sake of changing, but for the sake of improvement, productivity and bottom line results. Only companies that constantly challenge what they do, challenge themselves to come up with new and different ways of doing things, and constantly improve on the things they already do will survive in today’s globally competitive environment.
Innovation cycles are becoming rapidly shorter, which means that companies have to be constantly on their toes, turning out new products, new services, and often new solutions because customers today don’t just want a product or a service. They want companies that solve their problems.
Unfortunately many companies lose their most innovative and bright employees because their corporate culture is so stymied in protocols and “the old ways” that managers and leaders are not open to and do not encourage creativity or new ideas. How do leaders of organizations effectively build a culture of innovation and change?
Leaders must be the champions for innovation in their organization.
Innovation and creativity will not flourish in an organization, unless it is actively encouraged, driven by and supported by the highest levels of the organization. People within the organization must be motivated to develop and share innovative ideas and methods.
Typically, the company’s top management is the formulator of the overall mission of the business. They establish the long-term direction, set specific performance objectives, develop strategies to achieve those objectives, and then allocate available resources to the implementation of those plans. It is critical that leaders light the fire in their management teams by continuously pointing out the need for innovation, the desire for creative ideas and getting the leadership team to create a corporate culture that allows innovation and creativity to happen.
Leaders need to create an atmosphere of innovation in their organization
Companies need policies and practices that encourage innovation in order be successful. For a successful innovation program, company leaders must develop collaborative teams that exhibit an entrepreneurial spirit, are functionally diverse, and have a unique perspective of the problem.
The key to creative renewal in organizations is their capacity to create a structure that develops new creative leaders to manage the organization. Organizations that operate from the authoritarian, hierarchical, command and control model, where the top leaders control the work, information, decisions, and allocation of resources, produce employees that are less empowered, less creative, and less productive. This approach to leadership has little chance of bringing innovation and renewal because leaders do not single-handedly lead organizations to greatness.
Successful organizations have discovered that shared and collaborative leadership, rather than single-handed and authoritarian management, is what unlocks the potential of managers to pool their various tools and skills to openly share information to devise creative and innovative problem solving methods. Everyone in the organization needs to feel that they are involved in the leadership of the organization.
Leaders should encourage diversity and inclusion to foster creativity and innovation.
The paths to advancement used to be closed to people of certain ethnic persuasions, women and those that were not perceived as “ivy league material.” Like-minded people, however, are not conducive to the spirit of innovation. Diversity lies at the heart of innovation. Innovation comes from people who think outside of the box and approach problems from a different perspective. As such, leaders must foster an appreciation for and insist on inclusion of people from all walks of life.
When the social structure of the organization helps workers feel secure, valued and accepted, it encourages creativity and innovation. People are willing to give more of themselves for an organization they truly believe in and enjoy working for. Consequently, organizational leaders must respect, value, and harness the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives of every employee and allow them to use their unique personal assets and experiences to work for the organization.
Leaders must create a safe haven where it is safe to fail.
People who cling to past and assume that the way the organization functioned in the past is the way it must always function do so out of a fear of failure. New ideas and ways of doing things create the risk that you might fail in your efforts. Rarely do innovative, new ideas that have been implemented in an organization find success on the first try. Steve Jobs, the innovative CEO of Apple, had many product failures before the I-mac, I-phone and I-watch or other successful Apple products achieved success in the marketplace. However, in Apple’s culture, failure was viewed as an opportunity to rise to the challenge and try again.
Creative leaders are able to embrace change and encourage every employee in the organization to question why the organization does things a certain way and seek out ways of doing it differently to solve a problem. Mistakes must be treated as part of the learning curve and employees who try new ideas and fail should not be “punished”.
Leaders need to be sure to reward creative and innovative managers and employees
Find reasons to recognize employees who go above the average in their performance and praise them in front of their peers and department at the next department meeting. It motivates them to try harder so they experience that feeling of pride again and it motivates others in the department to step up their game so they, too, can be recognized.
In order for an organization to move out of the “old ways” into a more competitive and innovative company, leaders need to pave the way.
As a leader, do you recall saying: “We’ve always done it this way, and it works.” If so, how is that working for you?