February 29

Leading innovation; where do you go from here?

Christmas has been and gone, you’ve managed to survive the end of the year accounting period and New Year resolutions have had time to bed in. In fact, if you’re leading innovation there is little to stand in the way of smooth progress for the rest of the year. Or is there? You may not realise it, but as the first flurries of the year melt away it is all too easy to become mired in the doldrums of mañana time. All those intentions, all those action points, all that promise can simply vanish down the drain of ‘what might have been,’ leaving you to reflect on yet another failed initiative.

Of course, this doesn’t just happen with New Year resolutions; every time an organisation makes a decision to change its approach, its ethos, its culture; it is potentially opening itself up to change fatigue. Why is this? Quite simply, because the intention is not the action and unless time is taken at the outset to fully understand the nature of the proposed change and to scope a defined implementation programme the chance of success is vanishingly small.

So, where do leaders go wrong? Well sadly, all too often the failure point comes right at the start.  Quite simply, if you don’t know where you’re starting from then you have no chance of arriving at the right destination. You might think you know, your leadership radar may well be telling you that something is wrong and the current buzz in the marketplace may be leaving you in no doubt that you have to change in order to fight off the disruptors, in order to survive, but unless you take time to find out then you are leaving the entire future of your organisation to chance.

So regardless of any resolution or decision, if leading innovation is on the strategic agenda then you have to take time in preparing the groundwork. Let’s say that your intention is to build a culture of innovation within your organisation. The first step may seem obvious, but it really pays to take time to understand exactly what a culture of innovation entails, and how it is likely to affect your business attitudes and processes. Following on, you need to undertake a cultural audit, to gain an in-depth understanding of the overall state of your organisation’s culture and particularly, of its level of innovation maturity. Only then can you realistically start to map out your innovation strategy and mix; balancing activity around incremental, differentiated and radical innovation in response to the needs of your business and its customers.

But, be aware, leading innovation is different and it may well take you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to develop personally in order that you can in turn instil innovation-led change in your organisation. It’s hardly surprising; adopting a defined innovation strategy and culture as a means of commercial differentiation is relatively new to mainstream business thinking. As a result, CEOs and corporate senior teams may have had years and years of management and leadership development training, but it’s questionable how much of that development was specific to innovation and the world we now find ourselves operating in.

And it doesn’t stop at the top either; 53% of managers in British businesses believe innovation to be a buzzword which holds little meaning in their day-to-day job. Around 55% are also unaware of their organisation’s definition of innovation and how it fits into wider corporate goals. So, for managers as well as senior leaders, understanding the benefits, processes and drivers of a culture of innovation is an important first step towards leading for innovation.

So, where do you go from here? The answer is quite simple; if you don’t want to be one of the 42% who agree that innovation is something they talk about rather than do and if you don’t want to be one of the 50% that venture into strategic innovation and fail for entirely avoidable reasons, then you start from the beginning. You read, you ask questions, you build understanding and only then do you move on to scope a culture of innovation which will drive game-changing solutions for your business.

For more insight, click here for an overview of my new book ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ co-written with Derek Bishop and Jo Geraghty.


building a culture of innovation, Innovation Leadership, Leadership

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