When you think of innovation and innovators, what companies come to mind?
Apple, Google, Tesla?
It seems almost second nature to associate these creative pioneers with innovation.
But the truth is, innovation goes beyond the latest and greatest tech to apply to any workplace and any industry today.
Businesses across the board now realize the need to be innovative to stay competitive. But to do this, they must cultivate a culture of innovation, one that permeates the workplace and is supported by leadership
I believe innovation can be a product of leadership, something inspired by and driven by good, creative leaders who see the value in new ways of thinking and doing.
How do these type of leaders inspire their employees?
- By showing passion and excitement for their work.
- By challenging staff and providing a safe space for communication and participation.
- By empowering people to test new ideas within their normal scope, rather than paralyzing innovation with bureaucratic processes.
- By acknowledging failure and preparing for it; when failure happens, their first reaction isn’t blame.
- By encouraging employees to be agile, to prepare for different roles and responsibilities throughout their career and provide them with resources to succeed.
In short, they invest in employees – and grow a skilled, resourceful, agile and loyal workforce as a result.
These leaders are not (or should not) be found only in new product development, digital marketing or similar fields that tend to have a creative vibe. They should be shaping the work environment across the board, from accounting to human resources, customer service to sales and beyond – because innovative ideas should come from everywhere.
As leaders we must dispel the notion that innovation only comes from Product Management, Marketing, or, worse … a select group of individuals designated to execute an “innovation function.” Nothing tells the rest of the organization “you don’t really matter” more than creating an elite team of innovators, while the rest of the workforce toils on the proverbial assembly line.
I recall a lesson early in my career when I worked for a telephone company. The company had recurring problems with electrical connection junctions (terminals) not staying fully closed. This resulted in weather-related outages, and the company was facing fines from the Public Service Commission for not rectifying the problem in a timely manner.
The company was prepared to spend many millions of dollars to install new terminals when the story of a creative field technician made its way back to HQ. A technician was out in the field and didn’t have a new terminal with him, so rather than drive an hour from his worksite back to the office to get one, he decided to place a 50 cent tie-wrap around the old terminal to ensure it stayed closed.
To the technician, it was nothing – he just didn’t want to do a poor job and/or get in trouble if his supervisor inspected the site. But to the company, it was a simple innovation that saved hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary investment.
The challenge in any organization is encouraging that kind of innovation at all levels, and ensuring that lines of communication are open so it can be recognized, rewarded and improved on by others. As leaders, we have a responsibility to grow an environment focused on innovation, to expand and inspire the innovators in our ranks.
They might lead us to an easy fix that saves millions or a new product that changes the marketplace forever.
What are you doing, as a leader, to inspire innovation in your workplace?
In true digital spirit, I encourage you to engage and collaborate with me in this space. Leave a comment about a new way to think about a topic I’ve addressed. Share my post via social media and interact with me on Twitter. I look forward to getting your feedback and using it to guide my blogging.