Fostering Innovation  

Leadership Competencies

An organization needs a well defined set of leadership competencies, which it can share with their employees at all levels in terms of expectations. All roles need to demonstrate leadership, but not all leadership competencies are required by all roles. The level and intensity of leadership will change depending upon if you are demonstrating the same at individual level vs. managerial level vs. strategic level.


Fostering Innovation


In today's world if you don't innovate fast enough, you will not survive. Building an environment, which not only encourages, but also drives innovation as a non-negotiable business objective, is one of the ways to keep the business going.

Definition

Foster innovation- Creating new or enhanced ideas, methods, processes, products, organization structures etc..., to meet the business objectives and priorities. There is no scale and size for innovation. Innovation can range from being a minor change to a large transformation. All of us know that over last two decades we have transitioned through the following phases-

  • If you do not innovate as an enterprise, you will not grow (20-30 years back)
  • If you do not innovate as an enterprise, you will be dead (10 years back)
  • If you do not innovate fast enough as an enterprise, you will be dead (now)
  • If you do not innovate fast enough as an individual, you will be dead (future) - though not literally

We have internally debated a lot, on if 'fostering' is the right word? when innovation is key to your survival. In today's world, those who innovate fast; they survive and those who innovate faster than the competition; they thrive. Innovation is no longer a way of life which can be achieved only by encouragement and inspiration. It also needs to be pursued as a non-negotiable business objective. However, when one takes a closer look, apart from that of strategic level, leadership competencies needed are same irrespective of if you are 'fostering' or 'driving' innovation. Therefore, let's avoid the trap of terminologies and get into the methods of demonstration.

Demonstrating at individual level          

  • Pursue innovation at personal level to come out with solutions to the problem or ways to leverage new opportunities- This means challenging status-quo and go with a mind-set that what is current can be improved upon. This innovation includes in its scope your own work and work of the teams you are operating in. Fostering innovation has two parts- one is to question the status-quo and secondly to change the status-quo. Both the parts are equally important. The fact that you are trying to innovate is half the victory.
  • Works with other team members to pursue innovation- Are you able to pursue innovation while working with your team-mates? Are you above to pursue a collective innovation? Are you comfortable with the steps of brain storming, norming and performing?
  • Achieving innovation by overcoming barriers- This is little 'non-technical' aspect of innovation. Innovation has many barriers, which includes-
    • Passivity of the sponsors or the team members
    • People too busy doing their business as usual work
    • Lack of funds

Leadership expectations in this case are on how you influence, drive and engage your stakeholders for their sponsorship and support. This will include interpersonal relationship, presenting the business case and potential benefits in a manner so that sponsors can relate to it, making people feel that the proposed innovation is their and not your idea etc..

  • Identifies and applies 'best practices'- This is more to do with the approach you take to innovate. One approach is to do lateral thinking or apply standard methods for root cause analysis to come out with innovation. The other is that you seek to find best practices which are used by best in class organizations or by your peers and other teams within the organization. This will avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Demonstrating at managerial level

  • Infuse innovation mind-set within your team- This is the combination of inspiration, challenging, driving and training. A leader will apply various methods, depending upon the team's (or individuals within the team) mind-set. Overall, you cannot compel people to innovate and even if you do, it’s not sustainable. This may also include, establishing goals and development plan in a way so that people know that innovation is a sure way of success.
  • Pursue team innovation- Apart from pursuing innovation, which improve products or services, one can also pursue innovation, which increase the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of your team. For example,
    • Creating 'brain-storming' time
    • Creating discussion data-bases and knowledge management systems
    • Innovation in project management process
  • Providing support and sponsorship for innovation by the team- Providing support will include:
    • Spending time with the team to discuss innovation
    • Letting people pursue innovation while doing their status-quo
    • Helping people find methods and solutions to the problems

Providing sponsorship will include-

    • Providing funds and resources
    • Talking to your peers for getting support from their team members
    • Creating incentive and rewards scheme around innovation
  • Encourage risk-taking on innovation- While innovation is linked to business objective, a leader needs to provide flexibility and risk-taking. Every innovation has some unchartered territory and some unknowns. One will create an environment, where people can embrace new ideas and learn to experiment. One may not only reward or incentivize people for innovation, but also for pursuing it (even if they are not able to achieve it). We at ExecutionMiH.com believe that every failure provides learning, which is a long term asset.
  • Encourages team members to share innovation success- There is nothing like replicating innovation across teams and functions. For example, if a manager has an innovation done in one of his teams, he will get a greater leadership score, if the same innovation has been adopted by the other teams within his function or even beyond his function.
  • Encourage focused and prioritized innovations- Out of hundred brilliant ideas on innovation; a good leader will encourage the team to pursue the ones which makes important difference to important business objectives.    
  • Make Innovation BAU- A smart leader will not position innovation as an additional task or a separate job. He will need to create a culture, where people take it as what they are paid for. Though this may not be the case in the initial stages of fostering innovation, but this is the point of arrival.

Demonstrating at strategic level

  • Sponsoring the methods which encourage innovation- This includes-
    • Sponsoring rewards and recognition structure
    • Sponsoring headcounts, which are dedicated to work on innovation friendly environment (for example, trainers on innovation...).
    • Sponsoring events and competitions around innovation
  • Driving innovation for new business opportunities or to address a threat- So far we have been talking about the encouraging and inspiring side of innovation. There is a more compulsive part of innovation and that is to generate more sales and to get more customers. This can mean that strategically you are-
    • Defining non-negotiable innovation goals
    • Linking performance rating with the level of innovation goals achieved.
    • Investing into the innovation initiatives related to products, sales and customer servicing
  • Driving Innovation to meet productivity and quality goals- This part of innovation is more internally focused. Strategically a leader is tested at two levels:
    • Level of contribution of innovation in getting more sales and customers (as covered in previous point)
    • Level of contribution of innovation in getting better margins- This part is to establish the innovation goals for internal improvements related to cost, quality and productivity.
  • Creating an environment where innovations are shared and leveraged- This can include:
    • Creating platforms, where people can share the innovations and best practices
    • Encouraging leaders and employees to share the best practices
    • Creating rewards around the level and width of adoption of an innovation