The following blog is a republish of an article appearing in Forbes written by Maureen Metcalf. It is a companion to an interview conducted with Tony Saldanha, author of Why Digital Transformations Fail, Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future on Tuesday, August 20th titled Why Digital Transformations Fail.
Change is accelerating on all fronts across all industries. Each organization will be faced with different types of change and at different rates. The commonality is that everyone is facing opportunities and strains because of the current business ecosystem. Companies are regularly facing a broad range of risks, such as cybersecurity attacks, where the question has changed from “Will we be hacked?” to “When will we be hacked?” On the positive side, robotic processes automation, machine learning/artificial intelligence and a wide range of applications are making the tight labor market more productive.
With rapid change as the backdrop for the foreseeable future, it has now become imperative for leaders to build innovation into their personal leadership “operating system” as well as into the DNA of their organizations. Innovation is imperative for long-term survival and success.
While many people associate innovation with special people who come up with creative ideas, it is more accurately nurtured by building a company that embraces innovation as part of its core DNA. The real question is what does that look like, and how do you make it happen?
- Leaders’ beliefs set the tone for the organization, whether these beliefs are conscious or just habitual. They need to ensure they value innovation. To act with integrity, our thoughts and deeds need to be aligned. As a leader, this starts with evaluating what you prioritize. Do you value both delivering on current commitments and concurrently innovating to take advantage of new opportunities and approaches? Do you have a growth mindset? Do you value curiosity and appropriately paced change over stability?
Many leaders don’t take the time to look within and evaluate their values. When we are busy, we often run on autopilot. Now, it is time to schedule time to reexamine your views and see if the thoughts and beliefs that made you successful will support your future success.
- Leaders’ actions set an example for all employees to follow. As a leader, are you creating a culture and systems that support successful innovation as a way of doing business, or is it a one-off activity during times of challenge? Leaders who create an ecosystem where innovation is part of the organization’s DNA model behaviors such as participating in innovation projects with their time and budgets. They talk about the importance of innovation as a core competency of the organization, just like they talk about delivering products and services on time and making a profit. Leaders must be engaged in innovation! Lip service and delegating innovation to special people or an innovation department is no longer sufficient. Having worked in quality improvement programs for several years, I have learned that everyone can have innovative ideas. The value is only realized when the leaders and the organization align around supporting innovation as a key to business success.
- The culture must promote and support innovation as everyone’s responsibility. If we think of culture as our agreements within the organization, we can make deliberate agreements that explicitly indicate that innovation is key to our strategic success. It is a key part of everyone’s jobs. Additionally, the organization needs to define the specific qualities of an innovative culture that match your industry. For some companies, this can include ideas such as:
- We continually test new ideas and learn quickly from these experiments.
- Everyone is expected to contribute to innovation.
- We share ideas transparently and openly and collaborate to enhance innovative approaches.
- Goals, systems and processes should all promote innovation as a key strategic objective and value. As mentioned, to truly build an innovative organization, it needs to be part of everyone’s jobs. People need to have time to invest. This can be a charge code for organizations that track chargeable hours; it can be a set time of the week, like Friday mornings; or it can be a periodic hackathon. The main point is it needs to be integrated into part of the job responsibilities. It needs to be measured and rewarded. Lack of attention to innovation must also be acknowledged. We understand that some people are more creative than others. That said, innovation also includes a very disciplined process of thinking and evaluation. I worked as part of an innovation team to design new stud welders. As a management consultant, my contribution was evaluating the business impact of the changes. I also got to use the welding tools, but my main role was not designing new circuits; it was contributing my expertise to the projects.
Organizations need to innovate. Some large organizations have budgets and staffing to dedicate to this. Others need to find ways to build innovation into their DNA and still meet ongoing business requirements. Being part of the DNA means addressing leader values and behaviors, culture and systems and processes and ensuring they are all aligned around the company’s key strategic differentiators and values, including innovation.
Without taking a systematic approach, innovation will be sporadic and the probability of remaining healthy long-term declines. These elements are interconnected. What can you do to make a small change in each area that will move you toward building an innovative DNA into your organization?
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About the author
Ms. Metcalf – Founder, CEO, and Board Chair of the Innovative Leadership Institute (formerly Metcalf & Associates) is a highly sought-after expert in anticipating and leveraging future business trends to transform organizations.