Embedding Innovation in Leadership

Vijay_Govindarajan-1By Vijay Govindarajan
As we start a new year during a slow recovery, innovation will be at a premium as organizations strive to uncover new opportunities for growth. Yet many leaders have trouble thinking about (let alone driving) innovation when they’re focused on managing through the still-challenging present.

Keep intact teams together for development.This is one of the simplest yet most differentiating aspects of teaching innovation. Leadership development programs often fall short of driving real change because managers don’t go through the learning process together. Bringing together an entire team for a few days helps build consensus more quickly and fosters a greater commitment to applying new strategies across the operation.

Secure leadership support. GE views ongoing learning as part of the job, and it reinforces the message from the top down, with Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt participating in LIG and other development programs. Without the company’s full commitment to providing its leadership bench the necessary time, resources, and ideas, workers will see management programs as a waste of time.

Leverage actionable frameworks. GE applies a “three-box” framework to strategic planning that helps leaders balance managing through the present, which is largely about driving efficiencies, and creating the future, which is about innovation. Translating a concept like innovation into a workable framework enables leaders and their teams to apply new strategies with consistency and rigor across the organization.

Create a common language. Similar to making actionable frameworks for innovation, constructing a common vocabulary team members can easily understand and adopt greatly improves chances that they will use what they learn.

Conduct extensive follow-up. This might seem obvious, but all too often development programs end once people leave the classroom. You can increase the impact of training by retaining various touch points to see how participants integrate innovation strategies into everyday operations. Follow-up can take various forms, whether through workshops or ongoing consulting and guidance, but they should all focus on equipping leaders with tools and a framework they can easily apply.

Sharing best practices. As successes emerge, leaders should encourage teams to share them—both to maintain the momentum of what’s been learned and drive further adoption across the organization.

Company leaders have two jobs to do. The first is to make money, but the other—and perhaps more challenging—is to invest in the future. Leadership training programs should encourage leaders to think far beyond driving today’s efficiencies. Innovation, especially in a slow-growth world, won’t happen solely through R&D investment in technology; R&D also means investing in people, to equip them to position their business for the future.


The Secret of Innovative Companies: It Isn’t R&D

Article 1 - 10 May 2013In rejecting the limiting belief that innovation is R&D’s job alone, leaders of highly innovative companies work hard to instill “innovation is everyone’s job” as a guiding organizational mission. Innovation is the lifeblood of our global economy and a strategic priority for virtually every CEO around the world.

Innovation starts at the top

The code for innovation is embedded in an organization’s people, processes and philosophies. The behavior of leaders matters – tremendously. In fact, innovative leaders weave a code for innovation deep into the world’s most innovative—and often most valuable—companies.

Innovation continues through all levels of the organization

By creating organizational processes that mirror their individual discovery behaviors, such leaders build their personal innovator’s DNA into their organizations. They also understand the critical need to attract creative people if the company hopes to build a cadre of innovators at all levels. Clearly, if companies want innovative ideas from employees, they should screen for innovation potential in the hiring process. For example, Virgin describes its people as “honest, cheeky, questioning, amusing, disruptive, intelligent and restless.”

Invest in innovation

Almost everywhere we go, we hear executives and professionals complain about having “no time” to innovate. Other leaders highlight factors such as short-term pressures from investors, talent deficiencies, the challenge of implementing innovation-friendly rewards structures, the still fuzzy nature of innovation, and in candid moments, their own discomfort with the different mental frames required to lead innovation. But in the end, innovation is an investment, in leadership and the team.

It’s time for leadership to step up. Top executives who value innovation need to point their fingers not at others but themselves. They must lead the innovation charge by understanding how innovation works, improving their own discovery skills, and sharpening their ability to foster the innovation of others. Moreover, they must actively populate their organizations with enough discovery-driven innovators to make innovation a team game that translates into tangible and sustainable innovation premiums.

Qualities of Innovative Leaders

bill-georgeBy – Bill George

Organizations need innovative leaders at the top willing to sacrifice near-term financial results to support their innovators through success and failure. The characteristics of great innovative leaders are dramatically different from traditional business managers. Here are five essential qualities they must have to lead innovation: 

  1. Passion for innovation. Innovative leaders not only have to appreciate the benefits of innovation, they need a deep passion for innovations that benefit customers. Just approving funds for innovation is insufficient. Leaders must make innovation an essential part of the company’s culture and growth strategy. 
  2. A long-term perspective. Most investors think three years is “long-term,” but that won’t yield genuine innovation. Major innovations can change entire markets as the iPod and iTunes did, but they take time to perfect products and gain adoption by mainstream users. Leaders cannot stop and start innovation projects as if they were marketing expenses; they must support innovation regardless of the company’s near-term prospects. 
  3. The courage to fail and learn from failure. The risks of innovation are well known, but many leaders aren’t willing to be associated with its failures. However, there is a great deal to be learned from why an innovation has failed, as this enhanced understanding can lead to the greatest breakthroughs. At Medtronic, our failures with implantable defibrillators in the 1980s led to far more sophisticated approaches to treating heart disease in the 1990s. 
  4. Deep engagement with the innovators. Innovative leaders must be highly engaged with their innovation teams: asking questions, probing for potential problems, and looking for ways to accelerate projects and broaden their impact. That’s what HP’s founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard did by wandering around HP’s labs and challenging innovators. 
  5. Willingness to tolerate mavericks and defend them from middle management. The best innovators are rule-breakers and mavericks who don’t fit the corporate mold and are threatening to middle managers following more typical management approaches. That’s why innovative leaders must protect their maverick’s projects, budgets, and careers rather than forcing them into traditional management positions. 


scott-anthonyBy Scott Anthony

One of the most common complaints of executives inside large companies is the challenge of recognizing and rewarding successful innovators. It seems like a Herculean task, as the best innovators can choose to work for startups and receive unbounded rewards. How can a large company–especially a publicly traded one–compete? The key is to thoughtfully blend the unique rewards at their disposal with a failure-tolerant culture.

People who have chosen to work for larger, more established companies have already chosen to trade off financial upside for stability and the opportunity to work with a larger group. Provide other incentives that give people a sense of autonomy, allow them to master their trade, and give them a sense of purpose.

Maybe someone who brings a great idea forward can stick with it as it winds through the organization. Or get a chance to work on an exciting new product launch. Public recognition matters, too. One media company holds an innovation awards ceremony that they treat as seriously as the Oscars–people get decked out and fete internal success stories. Winning is a big deal. It’s just one way for companies to shine a spotlight on success.

Encouraging innovation isn’t just about what companies reward–it is what they choose to punish.Companies need to be more tolerant of failure. The most successful businesses come out of a process of trial-and-error experimentation. Failure and false steps are natural parts of that process. What kind of message does it send if you punish people who take well-thought-out risks that don’t pan out?

Innovation Doesn’t Come On Demand, It Comes by Invitation Only

john_kotterBy John Kotter

There are practical, immediate ways to create a culture of innovation in your organization — ones that don’t just create an atmosphere of “fun,” but that actively engage employees in the innovation process. Here are three tips for getting the ball rolling:

  1. Share the company secrets. One way to create trust and enable innovation is ensure that employees are “in the know.” Ensuring employees have a clear understanding of the current metrics affecting the business — the strengths and weaknesses, the most tightly-held secrets to the company — makes them more empowered and productive.
  2. Don’t tell them they “have to.” Help them want to. Lead with a light hand. Ask questions instead of driving decisions. Reward those that speak up by giving them the power to follow their idea through. The example will only encourage others to voice their ideas. When teams begin to trust that they are in control, they’ll take the lead, and you may be amazed at what they come up with.
  3. Give explicit permission to take risks. Give employees the freedom to explore their ideas to see where they lead. In a culture where each work hour has to account for progress, employees are inherently prone to avoid risks. Ensure that the lessons from failures are as valued as the lessons learned from successes, and you’ll send the message that taking risks is okay. At Kotter International, one of our clients allowed their transportation repair team to attempt a re-organization of their repair depot. As a result, they’ve seen huge improvements in efficiency and a major decrease in employee injuries.

Mentorship is Vital to Driving Innovation

Matt HuntIf you had the choice between exploring a cave alone with no flashlight and exploring a cave with an experienced guide who carried a torch, which would you choose? Alone in the dark, you might still be able to use sound and touch to make it through the cave, but you would be doing a lot of guesswork. Clearly, it would be an easier (and more enjoyable!) journey with a guide.

How does a good mentorship program benefit newbies and the “been there, done that” crowd? It:

Drives Better Results

The most significant effect of a solid mentorship program is better results, and we all want those! The guidance and advice given throughout the process make innovation leaders more efficient and effective in their work. They are able to avoid a lot of skinned knees when they have a guide lighting the path.

Builds the Individual

Like the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, the innovation leader should be growing and learning with each new initiative. Startup investors would never hand over their cash without knowing that the entrepreneur has the right coaches to help her succeed, so why wouldn’t companies make that same investment in their leaders? Innovation must be viewed as a system or process that can always be improved, rather than a bunch of individual projects.

Sustains the Organization

Just as mentors can help support the success of the individual, they can also promote the organization’s success by capturing and retaining the institutional knowledge gained through its series of successes and failures.

The innovation leaders who are drawn to this work oftentimes have very similar attributes to that of the entrepreneur. They are action-oriented individuals willing to take risks, and they have a low tolerance for bureaucracy and wasted time. These individuals have high turnover rates due to their personalities, an organization’s lack of planning or clarity regarding future opportunities, or both. As these risk takers move in and out of organizations, it can be the role of the mentor to capture the lessons learned and prepare the next generation of innovation leaders.

Essae Chandran Institute brings you a 2-day workshop “Bring Innovation Alive” by experts William & Debra Miller, 16-17 May 2013, Bangalore. More visit: http://bit.ly/12H6Z1C

Innovation – The role of the Leader

Paul-Bridle_01 (1)By: Paul Bridle

The leader is involved from fertilization through to the ongoing environment needed to sustain innovation. The leader sets the tone, ensures that people are aware of the strategic importance of innovation and makes it part of the focus of the organization.

Surveys of business leaders show that the majority of time is spent on forecasts, processes and problem solving than planning and promoting innovation. Less that 10% have innovation as an item on the Board’s agenda and only 12% mention it in briefings or have it as part of the vision or values of the organization.

If the leaders at the top are not committed to, and demonstrating their commitment to, innovation in the organization, then it will not be taken seriously. What ever is important at the top is what is focused on at the lower levels. People will not focus on things that are not going to be recognized by the boss! The surprising thing is; for many businesses, if innovation was high on the agenda, it would assist sales, reduce costs and create opportunities.

The leaders have the responsibility to set innovation as being an important aspect of the business strategy. To do this the following need to be considered:

  1. Personal and collective commitment to innovation from the CEO and Board
  2. Commitment to innovation evident in business plan, strategy, vision or values
  3. Review of innovation progress at meetings
  4. Communication of the above down the organization
  5. Managers and Leaders at all levels understand the emphasis and are expected to report on progress on innovation