Bringing innovation to the market faster than the competition is difficult in itself let alone doing it time and again, every quarter, every year.
But it is something that has to be done. And for this to happen, leaders must enable an environment where ideas fly in from many quarters within the organisation.
Why has innovation increasingly become important? I think Jeff Bezos captured it when he said “our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service.” Loyalty is intrinsically linked to innovation and customer experience. Customers are becoming less loyal and flocking to brands that can provide them what they need immediately.
Many organisations struggle to regularly produce innovative ideas because coming up with such is not encouraged and innovation is usually driven from the top. This ought not to be so. Client-facing staff, middle to lower management must not only be involved in the ideation process but must be encouraged to initiate it. That’s where gut, intuition, and experience can complement those ideas and combine them into a steady stream of profitable innovations that ultimately translate to real customer value. But organisations must keep the ideas flowing first which is the critical first step.
For a team to innovate, there has to be a culture that permits people to question the status quo, disagree amicably, and dissent. This is how to get the innovation source flowing in your organisation. And it’s the responsibility of the leader to create that kind of psychological safety.
But it’s easier said than done. In retrospect, how have you as the leader rewarded innovative thinking? Is your default reaction shutting down an idea simply because you did not conceive it, or you acknowledge them without revisiting or putting it into action? When you reject an idea, do you appreciate your team for coming up with the idea and elucidate further your reasons for not going with the idea? Either way, your actions or inactions may implicitly or explicitly discourage thinking out of the box which may set the tone for a drought in innovative ideas.
You also have to speak to their head and heart as well. You have to paint the bigger picture of the purpose of innovation with clarity that sparks discretionary energy which goes beyond their respective roles and function.
Lastly, be authentic. Do not portray a leader that knows it all. You can share a story or two about previous mistakes you made a while ago. Make it a priority to ask questions that challenge the team into thinking big and beyond their comfort zone. Establishing a culture where honest and open discussions are the order of the day. This is an ideal foundation to have the innovative ideas juice flowing.
Remember this – teams come up with the best ideas and do their best work when they feel they can question the status quo, raise concerns, and ideas without fear of repercussion.