In an incredibly competitive business world, innovation separates good companies from great ones. Leaders who focus on driving innovation build companies that disrupt industries and even establish entirely new ones.
When people think of the most effective leaders of the past few decades, these individuals are often those who have driven innovation, such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Mark Zuckerberg. However, the formula for driving innovation is not always obvious.
Innovation means taking a risk. This leaves leaders, employees, and companies vulnerable. The question becomes one of managing risk while providing space and encouragement to employees who want to try new things. The following tips can help leaders inspire more innovation at their organizations.
Reduce resistance to change.
My employees resist change because they fear the unknown. Leaders who push for innovation know that they have to fight this resistance by talking about change and the need for it.
The best business leaders fight complacency by making their employees ambitious. However well the company does something, improvement is always possible and making smart upgrades will keep the organization on top. Change involves risk, but so does standing still in a market that is rapidly evolving.
When employees understand this, they start to look constantly for small ways to make a product or service better and push to stay on top. Deconstructing fear of change also involves creating a culture that frames failures as learning opportunities and encourages calculated risks.
Reframe the problem at hand.
Sometimes, creativity can be stifled by looking at an issue in a traditional manner. Leaders need to challenge their employees to think about problems from a completely different point of view. Sometimes, a different perspective reveals a more fruitful path. Reframing problems involves challenging assumptions and asking questions that do not have obvious answers.
Business leaders may also want to create teams consisting of people with varying perspectives so that they can each learn to look at an issue in a new, exciting way. Diversity in teams drives innovation and helps people start thinking outside of the box when they are working independently.
Communicate candidly with employees.
Communication may not be the first thing that comes to mind when people think about innovation in the workplace. However, leaders can inadvertently discourage creativity when they do not express themselves clearly.
When employees have to interpret what a superior means, they are less likely to take chances. On the other hand, a superior who provides candid and honest feedback builds trust. When a trusted leader then says it is acceptable to take a chance and fail, employees will believe it.
Use your vision to direct change.
Business leaders should not expect their employees to do all of the work when it comes to innovation. To direct the change that they want to see, leaders need to share their vision for the future with their employees.
When these individuals internalize that vision, they become better equipped to make the changes necessary to achieve stated goals. Leaders should create a single, comprehensive statement that shows the direction of the business and then spend time exploring and explaining that vision.
Each employee should have a clear sense of how she or he directly contributes to the growth of the company. This responsibility can motivate individuals to try new things and start thinking about old problems in new, exciting ways.
Differentiate between innovation and perfection.
Too often, teams get caught up on the idea of perfection. When leaders let their teams try to perfect something new before it goes to the public, the risk of another company beating them to the punch increases.
Nothing new will be perfect and, in reality, perfection is not really possible without input from the public. Teams can continue to work on a product even after it has gone live and the feedback that comes in will ultimately help it evolve faster.
Part of the risk of innovation is putting a product out there that is good enough for release, while realizing changes will need to be made in the future. Customers understand that new products come with bugs. They are willing to work with companies to help perfect those products over time.
Provide space for exploration.
One of the best ways to inspire innovation in employees is to provide them space and time for doing so. Business leaders may want to consider creating a specific block of time each week or month that is free from deadlines and other responsibilities. This time is set aside to give employees the freedom to explore whatever ideas or concepts they wish.
Leaders may also implement a similar policy for teams. Perhaps for one lunch session each week, members of a team are encouraged to sit together to brainstorm out-of-the-box concepts and explore topics that do not come up regularly. While not every session will produce a great idea, this is not the point. Creativity is a muscle that must be flexed. Eventually, some really great ideas will flow from these sessions.