Are You Genuinely Cultivating Innovation in Your Business?


There are few words more buzz-worthy in the modern business world than innovation. Businesses love the idea of driving it, leaders love talking about it and employees strive to participate in it. But there is a difference between the idea of something and the actual application of it. So, are businesses and their leaders actively encouraging the actions that make up innovation? Or are they merely talking about it?

Recent research by the O.C. Tanner Institute found that there is a considerable discrepancy between talking about the support of innovation and actually supporting it in action. In a survey of over 3,400 professionals, an overwhelming amount of respondents felt responsible for innovation but a much smaller amount were actually involved in innovative processes.

Are businesses and their leaders actively encouraging the actions that make up innovation?

Problems from the top

The research looked into what exactly caused this disconnect and found that the problem was largely a result of a gap between leader’s perception and employee’s reality.

By and large, leaders are strong vocal supporters of innovation. Because they articulate this support, they largely believe they are fostering a genuinely innovative business. Yet, there is only a small portion of non-leaders that believe they have the resources needed to enable innovation on their end.

Interestingly, this disconnect was not limited to any one kind of organisation or demographic of worker. Employees young and old, at businesses large and small felt that while their leader talked the talk of innovation, they weren’t walking the walk. The barriers to innovation ranged from a lack of encouragement or opportunity to an absence of sufficient access to resources (including money, staff and overall support).

When you present innovation as an important aspect of your business but then fail to provide your team members with the resources needed to deliver you are creating a culture of hypocrisy. More than that, this gap between support and action increasingly creates cynical and disillusioned employees, according to the report. Worse yet, team members that were once engaged and motivated by this vocal support of innovation can lose their drive when they realise they don’t have support from their leaders.

The bottom line: You need to go beyond empty innovation jargon and genuinely create pathways for innovative ideas to blossom. How do you go about this? Let’s take a look.

Leaders at the top may think they are backing innovation but employees don't feel supported.Leaders at the top may think they are backing innovation but employees don’t feel supported.

Have a conversation

Once you recognise a gap between innovation talk and innovation action, it’s time to sit down and have some serious chats. Bring together your leadership team and get to the root of the problem. In what ways have we tried to support innovation? What is working? What isn’t? Where is the disconnect? How can we realistically remedy this problem? These questions will help highlight what the problem is and hopefully illuminate some kind of solution. When a game plan is created, there needs to clear and concise communication internally. Let your team see exactly how you plan on backing their innovative ideas. What are the processes? How can you get an idea in the pipeline? Where do you request resources? Having a conversation is a great start but following it up with a concrete plan of action is critical to showing you mean business.

Lead the shift

We’ve all heard the saying: Be the change you want to see in the world. The same concept applies to leaders and innovation. When your team sees that you are willing to take risks and try out -of-the-box ideas they will feel much more comfortable making the same leaps themselves. Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis explains that leaders need to becomes change agents to effectively inspire and support innovation. This materialises as challenging your team members to look beyond run of the mill solutions. But more importantly, challenging yourself to do the same. Innovation isn’t a safe bet, it is inherently a risk – show your team it’s okay to take those big steps by jumping first.

Freeing up unnecessary processes is a sure fire path to genuine innovation.

Shake up your organisational structure

When an idea has to go through ten layers of sign offs and six different approval processes, it often loses its steam. Leaders that want to open the pathways to innovation faster should consider flattening out traditional hierarchical structures. When your team members can have their ideas heard and green-lighted faster they will be more inclined to innovate. This can be as simple as sectioning off some time every week for an ‘open-door’ hour so employees can run ideas by you. Freeing up unnecessary processes is a sure-fire path to genuine innovation.

Innovation is synonymous with growth. If you want your company to continue to thrive you need to commit to the idea of big changes. Enabling your employees to contribute to these processes is a huge step in the right direction.

Interested in learning more about how you can encourage innovation as a leader? Check out some of our ICML management courses on enabling your team to make bolder decisions.

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