Innovate at Maximum Speed: 5 Tips
The world is changing faster than ever and companies large and small are struggling to keep up. Customers are demanding new, innovative products and services; employees are being asked to produce better, faster results; and technology is accelerating workflow and communication.
To maintain a competitive advantage in today’s business world, organizations must innovate faster and more effectively. But how? Hay Group’s seventh annual Best Companies for Leadership study has shown that the 20 top companies with the strongest leadership skills put innovation at the heart of their corporate culture.
We learned that to stay ahead of the herd, you must implement five key practices for maximum innovation advantage:
- Break open decision chokepoints.
As your company grows, you risk being a chokepoint if you try to hold onto all the decision-making. Start delegating by pushing decisions down to the lowest appropriate level and trusting the managers you hired to make good decisions. It can feel risky to hand off decision-making to someone else, but you need to avoid becoming an innovation bottleneck if you want to let creativity flow freely through your organization.
- Make every employee an innovator.
As companies grow, they naturally seek leaders with technical expertise, but it’s just as important to find leaders who are able to translate strategy to people at the front line. When employees understand how their roles fit into the big picture, they are better able to make suggestions that help the company innovate at maximum speed. Having a single innovative leader is valuable; having an organization where everyone innovates is transformative.
- Study abroad.
In big, bureaucratic organizations, leaders often struggle to find ways for employees to gain the broad perspectives that enable innovation. Smaller firms where everyone wears multiple hats tend to have a built-in innovation advantage. Your employees have to think more broadly because they are playing multiple roles. On the other hand, as a small company, you’re probably focused on your local market. That’s fine for now, but remember that your city, your state and even your country don’t have a monopoly on good business ideas. Take time to think how your products or services might be perceived overseas. Look into hiring people who have diverse backgrounds or international experience that they can use to generate new business insights. Having a diverse workforce not only can jumpstart innovation internally, it can also give you a leg up over the competition if you do decide to pursue international growth.
- Protect collaboration from selfish superstars.
Smaller companies typically place a high value on collaboration, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily hold people accountable when they fail to collaborate. Innovation usually depends on a bunch of smart people sharing ideas. But smaller organizations sometimes tolerate non-collaborative behavior from superstar performers who are seen as irreplaceable. Unfortunately, a single selfish superstar can create a toxic atmosphere that damages the culture of collaboration throughout the organization. Provide clear feedback to encourage the superstar to see the merits of collaboration. If that doesn’t work, your only fallback option may be to ‘quarantine’ the superstar by surrounding him or her with people who can at least protect the collaborative ethos in the rest of the company.
- Celebrate triumphs, dissect failures.
One key to innovation is understanding why you succeed or fail. These types of analyses don’t need to happen at the whole organizational level, but they should at least take place at the team or unit level. Think about setting aside a whole day to encourage employees to share new ideas with one another. In a life sciences company, this could mean having scientists present the results of their individual research projects. At a commercial organization, give sales teams a forum to discuss their most effective new selling strategies. These types of open idea exchanges have the potential to serve as the catalyst for valuable new collaborations or highlight successful business practices that deserve to be adopted across the whole organization. And don’t forget to take the time to applaud innovation when it occurs!
The key message for entrepreneurs is to remember that speed and innovation matter more than ever in today’s fast-changing business world. Watch out for anything that obstructs collaboration or slows you down. Don’t underestimate your own power as a leader to eliminate those roadblocks and unleash your organization’s full innovative potential.