Many attempts to innovate companies fail. That's unfortunate, because, as we live in a culture of startups, innovation is crucial to the success of a business. A company that maintains the status quo can't keep up as more and more competitors spring up every day.
As a leader, instilling an innovative environment in your organization is especially important. Leaders set the tone at their companies, so in order for innovation and creativity to take place, you need to exhibit innovative leadership. That means that you not only have to foster innovative thinking in yourself, but you also must promote creative behaviors and change in your team members as well.
Leadership and innovation go hand in hand. So how to you foster creativity and growth in your organization? Here are six important steps you should take if innovative leadership is your goal.
1. Look for learning opportunities.
Working on yourself and your own leadership style is one important espect of leading change. In order to come up with ideas, innovative leaders always look for opportunities to discover something new or find different ways of doing things. That doesn't necessarily mean going back to school and earning a master's degree—although it could, if you believe it would help you and your company succeed. It also means taking advantage of experiential learning.
Experiential learning means that you're learning while doing. See every project as an opportunity to learn something new. Try different approaches—this only helps you gain insight into better ways of doing something, even if the approach doesn't pan out.
Ask for feedback. Find out not only what your managers think of you and your approaches; ask peers and subordinates as well. Innovative leaders constantly strive for self improvement. Part of leading organizational innovation means you need to always be looking for new ways of doing things, and that includes personal and professional growth as well. What leadership behaviors are you exhibiting? How can you improve them for the success of your team and entire company?
Exhibiting innovation and leadership in your industry also means looking otuside your own organization. Network with others in your industry. Networking can lead to new career opportunities, but it can also help you discover new talent. Attend conferences. These are great opportunities to learn about the approaches others in your industry and outside it are taking to improve their organizations. Attend seminars and workshops as well.
2. Foster creativity in team members.
Being an innovative leader literally means leading innovation. That means not only looking for ways to thinking more creatively yourself, but also fostering organizational change.
Create opportunities for your team members to exercise their creative thinking. Hold brainstorming sessions as part of your innovation process. That might even mean collaborating with other people to develop ideas for the innovation process itself. Your employees might have suggestions about how your company can generate innovative ideas, in addition to coming up with the innovative ideas themselves.
Part of being an innovative leader also means fostering employees' personal and professional growth. No matter what your leadership style is, your goal should be ensuring that the people who work with and for you are meeting their professional potential. Part of your organizational change might include learning opportunities for employees. Not only will these help employees succeed personally, but they will also develop professional skills that in turn can lead to more innovative thinking—which, of course, benefits your company, too.
3. Recognize when ideas aren't working, and learn from failures.
It's impossible to attempt organizational innovation without encountering some failed attempts along the way. Changing the status quo requires trial and error. If you've tried an idea, and it just doesn't seem to be working, recognize when it's time to call it quits.
But just because a particular idea didn't pan out the way you and your team members might have expected it would doesn't make the idea or the project and process a failure. Look at the experience as a learning opportunity. Part of exhibiting effective leadership is seeking to understand why something didn't work and what you can do to change it for the future.
Discuss the project with your employees without laying blame on anyone who participated or came up with the idea. It's important that they understand that it may have been a good suggestion that just didn't work for whatever reason; great leaders seek to understand why something failed but recognize that the work and innovative thinking behind it may still have been solid.
4. Keep an open mind.
Being a leader, particularly one who's trying to foster innovation, means you're not doing it all—you're also paying attention to the suggestions and ideas of others and appreciating them.
Recognize that fostering a culture of innovation may mean that sometimes—probably often—someone will have an idea that seems strange or out of left field. Don't immediately dismiss it. Your ability to keep an open mind may mean the difference between success and failure. Just because you don't necessarily agree with something at first, or it's not something you would have considered, doesn't mean it can't work.
That doesn't mean you should try every idea a team member puts forth. You have a budget and don't have unlimited time, so you don't have the luxury of trying out every single idea. But you won't create change without trying some ideas that are off-the-beaten path.
5. Observe your environment.
Your ability to be aware of your environment can be valuable to both you and your organization. Constantly observe the company environment and people who work there. You'll be able to see what's working and what's not. You'll discover nuances of the organizational structure and whether anything needs repair or overhaul.
You'll also learn about the working habits of your employees and better understand their strengths and weaknesses. You may also discover talents in your employees of which even they might not be aware. Both of you can leverage these for the success of your team and company.
6. Set measurable goals.
Innovation is key to growing and improving your organization. But you can't rely on creativity to simply take its course. Instead, you have to set goals and markers for achieving them.
What does success look like? Party of your strategy must include performance metrics. In McKinsey Quarterly, Joanna Barsh, Marla M. Capozzi, and Jonathan Davidson suggest focusing on both financial and behavioral metrics. Financial metrics, of course, are the financial targets, such as revenue goals. However, transforming your company culture into one of innovation and creativity also means instilling change in your employees' behaviors. This means changing the organizational structure to an extent; you might implement more brainstorming sessions, for instance, and set goals as to what percentage of ideas come from collaborative brainstorming or outside resources.
Innovation takes time, but through creativity, learning, and welcoming the ideas of others, effective leaders can make it happen. Taking that plunge is crucial to the succes of your organization.