We talk a lot about innovative organisations, ones, which have adopted a culture of innovation in a bid to create market-leading products, and services, which solve real problems for their customers. We also talk about there being near-universal agreement on the part of business leaders that building a culture of innovation is the way forward both in terms of growing business and being the disruptor rather than falling prey to the disruptor.
But what does it mean to lead an innovative organisation? Is it just a question of same old, same old, whilst the bright minds get on with the transformative ideas or does it require something deeper? Well that’s an easy one! If you think that innovation is just something that a few people within your organisation get on with while you concentrate on annual reports and keeping shareholders happy then in all honesty you are never going to lead an innovative organisation. To lead the change you have to be the change and that means changing your own behaviours not only as an example to others but also to set the tone for the organisation.
So how do you lead an organisation towards a culture of innovation? In an article from December 2014 Amber Lyons from Kalypso identified 3 Es of effective innovation leadership as being Envision, Energise and Enable. In other words the leadership has to create the vision, communicate and motivate people and provide resources, funding and support to translate the vision into reality. This way of thinking is along the same lines as The Future Shapers 3Es Innovation Methodology™ of Establish, Enable and Embed but there is a fourth E which underpins innovation culture change and that is Engagement. In this context we are not talking about employee engagement or superficial engagement with the idea; rather we are talking about the deep engagement which the leadership team have to have with change if it is to succeed.
Quite simply, if it is not on the top team’s agenda, it’s not going to be in the culture, but if the beliefs and behaviours of the top team are not aligned with the change then no matter how many discussions and white papers you put out, at the end of the day nothing will change. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.
Scenario one: dealing with blame. When businesses adopt an innovation culture they are acknowledging the transformation which seeks to provide real solutions to identified needs. This inevitably leads to a measure of experimentation, not all of which will succeed. In order to create the conditions in which people are not afraid to try, the leadership has to change their attitude to one which sees failure as a learning point rather than a cause for censure.
Scenario two: long-term gain. The natural consequence of the solution-led organisation is that the profit cycle moves from instant gratification to long-term gain. It’s perhaps easy to talk about the bigger picture but leaders have to not only change their own expectations but also open a meaningful dialogue with shareholders and others to help them to move the expectations towards ones, which focus on long-term strength.
There is no one ideal leadership style which will guarantee success when transforming the culture to one of innovation but some traits are more likely to lead to success than others. Leaders who can promote dialogue and collaboration, leaders who are willing to empower and inspire, leaders who are open to possibility and who can open the minds of others are far more likely to lead towards innovation success. But far more than any of these, leaders will only succeed if they engage with the innovation ideal on a deep and personal level.