Innovation is a word that’s been squeezed dry. We know it’s important. We look at things like the smartphone or an idea like social media and see the epitome of game-changing innovation. The thought of coming up with something that different can be overwhelming, so innovation is set aside for when there’s enough money and time and talent to do something “really big.”
That’s the wrong way to think about innovation. Even smart phones and social media didn’t appear out of nowhere. They were an interesting take on existing technology.
Innovation is iteration. It’s a series of small changes that slowly lead to a whole new way of thinking and doing. The best people to lead continuous improvement are those closest to your customer.
Leading your team to develop an innovation mindset is a critical factor for future success. As we have seen with COVID-19, life can change quickly. Companies who are able to think creatively and cohesively will have the best chance to emerge from any crisis strong and successful.
What is a leader’s role in creating an innovative mindset? Build and support the framework that allow your team to solve problems continually.
Innovation as a Way of Life
Create systems that constantly challenge your team to think: “How can we do this better?” This isn’t something to limit to your annual strategy meeting. This should be a daily activity, a weekly conversation, and a monthly plan.
Start by looking at small changes that add value to your product or service. Is there a frustration that can be fixed? Is there an extra that can be added? Is there a combination that can be included?
Challenge your team to offer your service better, cheaper, and faster. Acknowledge trade-offs of quality and price in these new proposals, but keep focused on the big “What if we could…?” Use the constraints to challenge your solutions. What if you could do better, cheaper, AND faster? How?
You don’t have to launch changes weekly – that would spell chaos for your team and clients. But the conversation and solutions should be brainstormed regularly so they’re ready for your roll-out schedule.
Customer Feedback Loops
Create systems to systematically collect customer feedback. Your buyers have ideas they’re just waiting for someone to invent – you want that someone to be you. Often our teams solve problems individually, but lack the viewpoint to collate common issues into policy level changes or innovations. Review ideas, feedback, complaints, and compliments as a group and use that information to continually move your products to the next level of customer delight.
Find new ways to engage your customers with feedback. Comment cards, phone calls, feedback teams, roundtables, seminars, training, third-party reviews, and competitor client surveys all provide unique perspectives. Mix up your usual engagement strategy to learn what your customers want to buy next.
Provide Fresh Experiences
Create systems that provide fresh experiences to your team members. New situations will challenge their perspectives, thinking, and ideas. Start with cross-training duties and then move to rotational assignments. Allow space for creative exploration of new ways to achieve goals. Often, totally unrelated hobbies can inspire solutions for intractable problems. Make sure you intentionally debrief and apply these experiences with your team to reap the full benefits of creative expression.
Experiential leadership development programs provide structured pathways to spur new thinking while building critical skills. These programs have included everything from team wilderness experiences to volunteer opportunities to international assignments. Each of these experiences requires unique thinking and the problem-solving approaches required for global business success.
Innovation leadership must be integrated into every executive’s plan. The excitement and energy created around moving towards new goals is incredibly effective for motivation. Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of something new, bigger, interesting. Creativity begets creativity. An effective leader creates the structure, supports the process, and champions the changes needed for innovative solutions to take hold.
Need help in creating a leadership culture of innovation? Get in touch for a free consultation today!