We are living in a different world today. Spectacular scientific and technological progress has not only provided solutions to yesteryears’ problems, it has also created a newer and more complex set of problems. The only recourse for overcoming them is through innovation. Innovation is critical in a knowledge economy — driving growth, new products, and new methods of delivering value to customers. This is a key talent challenge for most organizations, and a talent gap that needs to be closed, starting at the top – with the role of the CEO.
Innovation is a complex phenomenon and requires competency in multiple areas, such as visioning, ability to generate ideas, internal and external networking relationship, ownership, stretch mind-set, focus on tasks and decision making.
The ability to execute an idea which addresses a specific challenge and achieves value for both the organization and customers.
The ability to question the status quo, as well as generate and implement creative solutions, to achieve business goals by combining insight with the business needs of stakeholders and the organization using an inventive approach.
Managerial Skills to be Innovative
Innovative managers don’t ignore risks – they manage them. Managers anticipate what can go wrong without getting boxed in. They are curious, and they seize upon clear opportunities, balancing exploration with being opportunistic. Those most likely to lead innovation are driven, high-impact individuals, who aren’t afraid to be assertive, independent, and above all, curious. Listed below are some of the skills of managers to be innovative.
Think with a Strategic Perspective
Because innovation managers largely exist within the confines of traditional corporations, bringing a strategic perspective to the innovation process is a vital skill for them to have.
Strategy and innovation are intricately linked and should be mutually reinforcing. Adapting to change drives business strategy and innovation drives change. An ongoing two-way dialogue between your leadership, which is responsible for setting the organization’s strategic and tactical roadmaps, and those driving innovation is vital to maximizing the success of both.
Innovation must adhere to the overall aims of business strategy, but that strategy should be flexible enough to pivot, where needed, to the disruption that innovation leaders seek to drive.
Managers need to have better risk management. They should be bold when it comes to experimenting with new approaches. However, they will initiate reasonable action when potentially negative consequences are expected. When risks do present themselves, they develop plans to minimize the risk and identify where it is needed most.
To develop better risk management behaviours, managers need to:
List a minimum of eight ideas for new initiatives. Benchmark best practices for each and identify five opportunities that can be implemented immediately, within the organization.
Identify, document and plan for risks as a part of developing strategic alternatives.
Shift their approach from thinking things through thoroughly towards getting started without knowing all of the answers and adjusting as needed.
Set a time limit for analyzing a particular situation to avoid overthinking decisions.
Stop and look at the downside risk of every decision. If you can live with the consequences of a decision, then stop analyzing and go ahead and make the decision.
Managers should exhibit an underlying curiosity and desire to know more. Managers need to actively take the initiative to learn new information, which demonstrates engagement and loyalty to the company’s goals. Keeping skills and knowledge up to date gives one the competitive edge to lead effectively, and also stimulates new ways of thinking.
To develop and demonstrate curiosity, managers need to:
Evaluate current knowledge and skills. Examine how these skills will help achieve long-term goals. Identify what other skills or knowledge would enhance the same.
Create a learning environment or community to encourage the free flow of new knowledge and perspectives.
Stimulate new thinking by examining mistakes and setbacks as opportunities to learn. Mistakes prompt one to look inward and think about limitations. By studying patterns of behaviour, you can recognize and correct behaviours that repeatedly result in mistakes, miscalculations, or the misreading of a situation.
Make time for developmental activities, such as taking classes and participating in workshops.
Managers need to be proactive and lead with confidence and authority. They need to turn tough circumstances into prime opportunities, demonstrate decisive capabilities and take responsibility for difficult decision making. Managers should engage and maintain the attention of the audience in any high-stakes meetings and discussions and should not avoid conflicts and differences of opinion.
Managers who wish to lead more courageously need to develop the following behaviours:
When facing a tough decision, consider the alternatives, identify and confront risks, and prepare to deal with other people’s reactions.
Look for an opportunity to share your feelings and opinions with clarity and conviction, despite any resistance you may experience.
Think about the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Identify situations or people that fall into both categories. The trick to being assertive is to share your views, but not to force them. Assertive managers look for a win-win solution and show respect for others (even when they disagree).
Learn to recognize and appreciate leadership qualities in others as well as in oneself.
Managers need to be proactive and take initiative and ownership for success. They need to anticipate potential obstacles before taking action, but avoid over-analysis. Managers should push for personal performance and be able to work independently for extended periods of time with minimal support. They should be able to change directions quickly to take advantage of new opportunities when they come up.
Managers who wish to become more adept at seizing opportunities need to:
Examine setbacks and problems related to creating new opportunities and competitive strategies within the company. Learn to see advantages in changing situations and in new developments. For example, a manager may evaluate the capabilities of the current project delivery team and consider whether additional resources will be required to meet all objectives, expectations and timelines.
Consider past opportunities that they declined. What do these opportunities have in common? What was intimidating about them?
Managers do not need to undertake opportunities alone. Make it a collaborative effort by asking valued employees to help out.
Maintain a Strategic Business Perspective
Managers need to have a strategic business perspective and demonstrate a keen understanding of industry trends and their implications for the organization. They should thoroughly understand the business, the marketplace, and the customer base and should be adept at identifying strategic opportunities or threats for the business. Managers should actively participate in community, industry and leadership organizations to understand the external environment, as well as have an ability to articulate convincing approaches to move their business forward.
To develop a strategic business perspective, managers need to:
Create and/or participate in a cross-functional committees.
Perform a knowledge-based SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, comparing your organization’s knowledge to that of its competitors and for the knowledge required to execute your organization’s own strategy.
Instead of waiting for learning opportunities to occur, try to stage activities that broaden learning in areas considered strategic. Start by defining what the organization knows about competitively important factors (e.g., why do customers buy a product or service?). Proactively create learning opportunities around these factors.
Involve people throughout the organization in the strategic planning process.
Develop a multi-year strategy that includes steps for you and your staff to take, in order to grow the business. Analyze where your successes have been and how they will apply to likely future trends.
Putting Action First
Concrete action is needed to make innovation a reality. With that in mind, here are some first action-items to help managers to get started on the journey towards making your organization an innovation-driven company:
Set a meeting with your team to outline the value of innovation for your company. Communicate the main tenants of your innovation policy, if you have one.
In it, explain clearly the parameters of what you are asking, and enabling your employees to do, such as engaging in networking opportunities that appeal to them, or offering ideas for improvement.
Create a forum for discussing innovation on an ongoing basis. Delegate ownership of this to a team member, setting the precedent for shared engagement with the process.
Learn the basic principles of risk management and institute a fixed procedure for assessing ideas in the innovation pipeline.
Managers with “driving styles” are the most likely to be innovative because they are willing to chart their own course and to stand alone in developing a creative, fresh approach to a product or service. Managers with “impacting styles” are also likely to drive innovation through their ability to convince and persuade others towards a new way of thinking.