When you think of truly innovative companies, what names come to mind? Chances are organizations like Apple, Google, Pixar, Netflix and Amazon make the list. What is it that makes these companies more innovative and adaptable than others? It is more than the innovative leaders at the top; it is a culture of innovation, cultivated through intentional efforts to seek growth and seize new opportunities. Leaders model a mindset of innovation that permeates throughout the entire organization, creating an open environment the provides fertile soil for ideas to grow.
How do you create a culture like that? Here are seven practices leaders take to lead innovation and change in their organizations.
- Facilitate ideation. Great leaders believe in the collective brainpower of their team members. They watch for problem areas and create spaces for the team to find solutions and brainstorm new ideas. They accept all ideas and recommendations without negativity or judgment. Their team members feel heard and appreciated for bringing forth these ideas, which encourages them to continue innovative thinking.
- Gather input from all departments and roles. Innovative leaders realize employees at every level have thoughts and ideas that can benefit the organization. They acknowledge they have blind spots that employees on the frontlines or across other departments can see better. For great ideas to take root, there must be buy-in and support across every level and department. This occurs by allowing room for input from multiple sources.
- Champion new initiatives. To lead innovation, leaders must take ideas and turn them into actionable projects or new initiatives to be presented to senior leaders. Employees will lose faith in their leaders when their ideas are not acted upon. In turn, they will stop offering ideas, feeling as though they won’t end up going anywhere. So, it is important for team members to see their leaders championing their initiatives for change and to receive updates on the response to those initiatives.
- Embrace failure. When a new initiative or change does not result in the desired outcome, an innovative leader will embrace failure and use the lessons to keep moving the team forward. They are fluent in agile methodologies and fundamentals to strengthen and optimize their teams and seek continuous improvement. This agility will create breakthroughs in innovation for the organization.
- Celebrate change. Change is a constant in innovative organizations and is recognized as an opportunity to grow. Without change, teams grow stagnant. Leaders in innovation celebrate new change initiatives that are implemented and the outcomes they bring. They know that change can be challenging and will involve additional training and support, but they model positivity and perseverance through the challenges. They may take the team to lunch or a fun outing to celebrate successes. They provide positive updates with data and statistics to see the impact of the change.
- Recognize contributions. Upon successful implementation of a project or change initiative, leaders take the time to publicly and privately recognize individual contributions to the change. They offer incentives and tokens of appreciation such as a handwritten thank-you note, a gift, an award or time off.
- Promote continued learning. Innovation and ideas occur as a result of continuous learning and professional development. Leaders designate time for ongoing learning for the team and individuals and invite them to share their insights. They offer opportunities for team members to attend conferences, participate in webinars, and read journals or articles. They promote opportunities for them to continue their formal education with tuition discount or reimbursement programs. Through these opportunities, employees will advance in their own knowledge and understanding. They will gain wisdom from others in their field, helping them to see new opportunities for the organization. This may also help them further their careers in the company.
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