Friday, September 28, 2012

Leadership Skills for Innovation

Innovation at the organization levels starts requires a strong leadership. People at all levels are creative & have ideas - many of them are afraid of expressing their creativity and express their ideas for various reasons (see Unleashing Creativity: Common mind blocks ), but the bottom line is that employees are innovative.

If an organization is not innovative, then the problem lies squarely on the top leadership: CEO, COO, etc

Having laid the blame on the top management, the question arises - what should be done to infuse innovation. The answer to that question is not easy, but there are some obvious starting points.

1. Start with a vision for Innovation & Change

You cannot expect your team to be innovative if they do not know the direction in which they are heading. Innovation has to have a purpose. It is up to the leader to set the course and give a bearing for the future.
You need one overarching statement that defines the direction for the business and that people will readily understand and remember.

Great leaders spend time illustrating the vision, goals and challenges. They explain to people how their role is crucial in fulfilling the vision and meeting the challenges. They inspire men and women to become passionate entrepreneurs, finding innovative routes to success.

2. Fight the fear of change

Innovative leaders constantly evangelize the need for change. They replace the comfort of complacency with the hunger of ambition. They'll say, "we are doing well but we cannot rest on our laurels, we need to do even better." They explain that while trying new ventures is risky, standing still is even riskier. They must paint a picture that shows an appealing future that is worth taking risks to achieve. The prospect involves perils and opportunities. The only way to get there is by embracing change.

3. Think like a venture capitalist

VCs use a portfolio approach and balance the risk of losing with the upside of winning. They like to consider lots of proposals. They are comfortable with the knowledge that many of the ideas they back will fail. These are all important lessons for corporate executives who typically consider only a handful of proposals and who abhor failure.

4. Have a dynamic suggestion scheme

Great suggestion schemes are focused, easy to use, well resourced, responsive and open to all. They do not need to offer huge rewards. Recognition and response are generally more important. Above all, they have to have the wholehearted commitment of the senior team to keep them fresh, properly managed and successful.

5. Break the rules

To achieve radical innovation you have to challenge the assumptions that govern how things should look in your environment. Business is not like sport, with its well defined rules and referees. It is more like art and is rife with opportunity for the lateral thinker who can create new ways to provide the goods and services customers want.

6. Give everyone two jobs

Give all your people two key objectives. Ask them to run their current jobs in the most effective way possible and at the same time to find completely new ways to do the job. Encourage your employees to ask themselves: 'What is the essential purpose of my role? What is the outcome that I deliver that is of real value to my clients (internal and external)? Is there a better way to deliver that value or purpose?' But most people never ask the question.

7. Collaborate

Many CEOs see collaboration as key to their success with innovation. They know they cannot do it all using internal resources. So they look outside for other organizations to partner with. A good example is VBLOCK. EMC, VMWare & Cisco collaborated to crate VBLOCK

8. Welcome failure

The innovative leader encourages a culture of experimentation. You must teach people that each failure is a step along the road to success. To be truly agile, you must give people the freedom to innovate, experiment and to succeed. That means you must give them the freedom to fail, too.

9. Build prototypes

Develop an appetite to test new ideas. "Don't debate it, test it," Should be the motto. Try the new idea at low cost in a section of the market and see what the customers' reactions are. You will learn far more in the real world than you will in the test laboratory or with focus groups.

10. Be passionate

Focus on the things that you want to change, the most important challenges you face and be passionate about overcoming them. Your energy and drive will translate itself into direction and inspiration for your people. It is no good filling your bus with contented, complacent passengers. You want evangelists, passionate supporters. You want people who believe that reaching the destination is really worthwhile. If you want to inspire people to innovate, to change the way they do things and to achieve extraordinary results, then you have to be passionate about what you believe in and you have to communicate that passion every time you speak.

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