Ironically, there is no hurdle in organizations to innovate, except the one created in leadership’s mind. Just as leadership sets the tone for the organizational environment, it must create the open mindset and an error-accepting environment required for innovation, it all starts here.
How often do you, your leadership and/or your extended team members ask this question: “Is there possibly another / better way of doing this?”. It is a simple, yet empirically proven powerful question to put at the basis of your quest for innovation and creativity in your organization.
In my consulting work, leadership innovation is often discussed. Recently during an assignment, an executive voiced his concern that it would be devastating if all people in an organization would be innovative. The executive was persuaded innovation would lead to unmanageable chaos.
Leadership often will say that their organization “hires the best”. However, I’ve often observed, once employees are “in”, they are treated as the most irresponsible, untrustworthy beings on this planet. In many organizations, through a reflection of the way the organization and its leadership has been structured, employees cannot think on their own, they cannot be trusted with ideas, time and flexibility. After all, they are ‘just’ employees. Hence, the notion that many leaders have that innovation needs to be executed by a ‘select few’ and “cornered” and “controlled” by leadership. This will often suffocate the initial good willing, well-intended, smart and eager to contribute employees. After some attempts at innovation, the employee gives up. He/she knows that innovation is fully controlled, is just talk and after all is not really wished for by leadership in any meaningful way.
Often there is an unspoken, or even a presented “we can’t innovate now” attitude communicated throughout the organization. Let me put it this way, the consequence of not innovating is so costly that leaders cannot afford “not doing it” at any time, irrespective of the economic conditions.
Instead leadership can show through behavior that it allows for people to take company time and resources to drive innovative behavior in the organization.
- Measurement of the employee will be through continuous and transparent organizational feedback, not just through the annual performance review and goal setting process.
- Leaders measure innovation by the amount of innovative behavior they see in the organization and through the innovative products they successfully launch serving their markets. Intelligent employees, when given space and the desire from leadership to innovate, will do exactly that. Healthy human beings derive great satisfaction from being productive, being innovative, and through all of this have a measure of self-growth. Leaders are no different.
In a market where the consumer’s innovative appetite seems higher than ever, leaders correspond accordingly by taking appropriate risk and delivering innovative products and services. Leadership’s actions in turn will lead to positive and tangible return on investment and healthy profits for the organization. Success as an innovative leader will be determined by the companies’ success.
Johan F. Reinhoudt
This article was originally published in Leadership Matters on 04 September, 2009.