Back in 2008, McKinsey presented report results on innovation and leadership, highlighting the top 2 motivators of behaviors that promoted innovation: Strong leaders who encourage and protect innovation and top executives who spend their time in actively managing and driving innovation efforts. Yet, over a decade later, this data is still valid, as the innovation is almost always a top-down effort. This leads us to an indisputable conclusion that, in order to make the desired impact, innovation needs proper guidelines, management and, above all, support from the senior management and executives.
Innovation leadership, often called leadership for innovation, refers to the efforts and activities that create and support an organizational environment where employees can participate in innovation activities in order to capture valuable ideas. Innovation leadership is all about how to develop, lead and manage innovation processes and support effective employees’ participation in the process.
Core questions that innovation leaders should be asking are:
• What are we trying to achieve and why?
• How do we accomplish our goals?
• What are the resources and people that we need to make it happen?
These questions should help lnnovation leaders define their innovation model, develop and implement innovation strategy and enable innovation culture. Also, it is the job of Innovation leaders to create a collaborative and supporting environment where employees will be able to express their ideas. To do so successfully, we provided a list of competencies, skills and knowledge required by the management to transform their organization into an innovative one:
Source of innovation vision
Leadership needs to define what is the innovation strategy of the organization and to provide clear guidelines to the employees and ensure they are aligned with it. The ability to communicate the innovation strategy and to translate it into specific actions for the employees will enable understanding and willingness to invest their time, resources and ideas to make it happen.
Innovation leadership needs to demonstrate innovative thinking capabilities, to connect all the dots, even the ones that are not that obvious. Also, innovation leaders need to support innovative thinking across the organization by providing different ideation challenges for the employees. Best practices show that the best way to do this is to provide a place where you can collect employees’ responses and ideas to innovation challenges and changes happening within the organization.
Lead by example
Innovation has to start with leaders. Innovation leadership must show its commitment to innovation with different innovation incentives, behaviors and actions. If innovation leaders want employees to be more innovative, then they need to be a role-model of the behavior they want to encourage. To lead innovation successfully you have to start with yourself. Only when innovation is led by an example, the employees will be more confident and more motivated to contribute to the innovation activities.
Promote culture of trust
Innovation leadership should show confidence in the employees’ contributions to innovation and accept failure as a part of the innovation process. They need to encourage everyone in the company to stay true to their ideas and to find a way to assist them in the challenges they are facing. By allowing your employees to learn through failure, you are inspiring trust among your team, removing fear and insecurity of failure and enabling creative ideas to reach the surface.
Recognize the innovators
Every organization should have a set of concrete innovation activities supported and sponsored by innovation leadership. A reward system for contribution to innovation will encourage and motivate your employees to participate in innovation activities, making them feel appreciated and aware of the impact they are making.
These were the most important skills and competencies that innovation leadership should have. One thing is certain, there is no single leadership style that suits all companies eager to manage their innovation processes. Every company should go through its own experience and build on its own innovation capacity and make sure that innovation effort is managed and supported by strong leadership. Innovation management software can be of great support to your innovation leaders. They will be able to have a place for your employees to share ideas, in one online and secure environment, where employees will have feedback on their ideas and will be recognized for their contributions.