Leading a culture of innovation in the New Normal

Coronavirus and the government lockdown have forced a lot of business leaders to work differently. Many leaders will have had plans and innovations in the pipeline already and have been forced to expedite these. Things like enabling working from home, managing a remote team and pivoting will have probably been on your radar before. For others, the government lockdown will have come as a huge shock to the system which comes with a set of real challenges. Many of us are working in ways we probably weren’t ready for! 

The New Normal doesn’t mean we have to slow down the pace or pivot completely. It’s likely for many business leaders that innovation was already top of the agenda and it absolutely still can be. In fact, many of us will be spotting opportunities, not just for the short term, but that will last long into the return to normal as well. 

Here are our top tips on leading a culture of innovation during the New Normal.

 

Define innovation

Innovation and invention are two very different things. To invent something is to create something completely new, but innovation doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch.

Innovation is the process of developing something that solves a problem, adds value, and that you and your team can execute really well. Communicate this clearly within your teams and re-iterate until it becomes a part of the culture.

Besides communication, innovation will be best achieved when there is a methodology in place, and the processes, ecosystem and channels are all supporting the cause. 

Recognise there are different types

Innovation can be either radical, differentiated, or incremental. If you are pursuing radical innovation, it’s almost impossible to build a culture around this. It’s unpredictable and doesn’t always provide reliable results.

Incremental innovation is more reliable and provides continuous fine-tuning to what you’re already delivering. It’s the safest route to go down but, by far, the slowest.

Differentiated innovation provides the most opportunities: you will modify and develop your existing products and services at a faster pace than incremental. Differentiated is customer-focused, of medium pace and the risk is more manageable that a radical strategy. 

You will want to lead by example to set the standard and to point your people in the right direction. Remember, you will always be a few steps ahead of your teams in terms of your thinking, approach and acceptance. It is important to provide direction and clarity in what you’re hoping to achieve.

 

Think about how you can lead

As a leader, you will need to own innovation. Coach and encourage others, communicate regularly and acknowledge that you won’t have all the answers. Your managers will be the ones driving innovation. Keep in regular contact with them, share changes and updates to your strategies and share your expectations clearly. Your people will be there to contribute, ask questions and create amazing ideas.

Harness your talent

It’s important to remember that not everyone will be an innovator, but everyone does have different talents. You can harness these to help them contribute, add value and drive growth. As a leader, you will want to make sure your people know that innovation is core to their jobs, not an addition to their workload.

Lots of companies have made the mistake of approaching innovation and continuous improvement as an ‘add on’. Some companies have offered rewards and bonuses based on innovation. You will want to praise and acknowledge people’s contributions, but your approach and example are what will drive change.

Make the best possible leadership choices

This is definitely easier said than done, however, there are some simple things you can implement to thrive as a leader. At this time, people are going to be feeling uncomfortable, unsettled and are unlikely to work exactly like they usually do. You must take time to consider their needs and provide support before taking the company in a new direction.

Ask people how they’re feeling, what they are struggling with and if there’s something they need from you, as a leader, or the business. Understanding people on this level will help you maximise their talents and get them aligned.

Ultimately, you will want innovation to be seen as something that lives at the heart of the business, not a short-term project.

Derek Bishop
Derek is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change strategies and has previously worked with businesses ranging from VC-backed SMEs to large corporates. He is a regular speaker and guest writer.
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