Everybody is being encouraged to innovate these days, but what should a leader actually do right now?
I would suggest leaders assess and address today’s three essential innovation areas: leader mindset, team beliefs around innovation, and structure. These three areas are essential to innovation and are at risk to have deteriorated post-pandemic. Leaders would be wise to be sensitive to their impact and get out in front of them to make sure they are prepared to raise the bar effectively.
Leaders need to make sure their heads (and the key heads around them) are still in the right place. Talking with and observing leaders that are doing the best during these times, I would suggest reinforcing the following ways of thinking:
- “I have the courage to win again.” This means having the guts to jettison old methods and approaches even if they have been successful in the past and look for new ways to create success.
- “This is OUR time for unprecedented innovation.” This means having faith that the team has the ideas and insights that can be applied now to make a great transformation in the organization.
- “We are never too busy to raise the bar.” This means having the discipline to keep working at ways to improve, not merely getting back to where things were.
- “I don’t have to do this alone.” This means having the humility to reach out to the rest of the organization for their insight and not rely on their own wisdom (which may be isolated and out of touch)
Peter Drucker famously observed that culture eats strategy for breakfast. But what can nibble away at culture? Beliefs. Culture can be defined as a set of commonly held beliefs that determine behavior. If leaders don’t address underlying beliefs, they will never get the innovative culture (and resulting behaviors) that they want. The list below provides some examples of common beliefs that can undermine the innovative cultures that leaders want to create:
- My boss doesn’t care
- Innovation is just about technology
- I am not creative
- My opinions don’t count
- Innovation is not my job
- Ideas never go anywhere (into a black box)
- If I come up with an idea I am rewarded with more work
- It is risky for my career to innovate
- WE are the leaders WE cannot be disrupted (too high of an opinion)
- We are “just” a supplier/contractor/too small etc (too low of an opinion)
- We can innovate without collaborating with other groups
Put yourself in your team’s shoes and imagine what beliefs they may have right now about innovating. Address the negative beliefs and support the positive ones.
To innovate effectively, leaders need to be open to ideas and have some structure. All openness and no structure leads to a free spirit culture and little to no execution. Lots of structure with no real openness to ideas leads to a culture of squelched innovation. Leaders need both to get ideas generated and creativity applied. Today, many leaders are very open to ideas (out of necessity), but many are finding either 1) they don’t have an effective structure or 2) the structures they had in place no longer work because people are remote. So make sure you have processes that capture ideas and lead them through a coherent and visible process to bring them to fruition.
If you address these three things, I think you will be far ahead of the pack when things start to come back to normalcy.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented innovation. Contact me to discuss ways to create a culture today that will allow your organization to innovate quickly and with less risk, no matter how remote or dispersed your people are.