Given how rapidly the business environment is changing leadership is no easy task. But thankfully leaders aren’t alone in this business of guiding businesses towards more profitable ventures; they have highly skilled and talented employees to help them. It is the employees who do more of the heavy lifting.
A large art of leaders role is to build teams of highly effective individuals and lead them towards desired performance outcomes, all the while keeping business goals in mind. This constitutes embracing differences and creating a shared platform where such differences can become force multipliers. It is also upon leaders irrespective of where they stand in the organizational hierarchy, to enable their teams to innovate and take initiatives. No one single leader can help teams make the best of a disruptive business world. But together as highly motivated and risk-taking teams who are open to the possibility of innovation, leaders can help businesses navigate the often unpredictable waters of the current age of digital disruption.
Leaders who can successfully drive innovations know it’s a collective effort. Thus the ability to build from a diverse pool of multiple skilled sources, both internally and externally proves critical in enabling innovation. It's only when leaders can leverage different points of view, experiences, and skills, that the ability to innovate can become long-lasting in the company. Sustaining innovation and replicating it across a company’s breath of operation cannot solely be the job of the leader, but rather a collective effort. But leaders have to ensure that their teams are to innovate in a manner that has a significant financial impact. Although there aren’t hard and fast rules in doing so, the following ways provide a helpful starting point.
- Define the kind of innovation: Innovation for the sake of innovation often doesn’t enable companies to create value and perform better in the current digital age. Without a clear vision in the area and the kind of innovation that would prove beneficial for the company, employees might end up wasting time with coming up familiar changes or do so at very unstructured speed.
- Create and overall buy-in: Innovation often is slow and requires testing out new ways to improve efficiency. For it to become a part of a company, leaders have to build a greater buy-in for it across the organization or it would again remain a part of senior leaders’ aim without ever becoming an important part of an employees role. Leaders also need to create incentives for employees to innovate.
- Setting targets for innovation: Leaders need to think in terms of performance metrics that can help them drive innovative practices within their different teams and build the right culture of risk-taking. Employees need to realize innovation is a welcome part of their functioning and setting clear targets helps drive many towards successful innovation.
When it comes to innovation in specific, the past few years have shown that companies that are able to innovate and build a work culture that builds on such innovation, are more successful. Netflix, for example, the billion-dollar content producing company that caters to global audiences today began a DVD renting company. It wasn’t even the first to digitize and use digital streaming services as a way to pivot and create a new market for itself. But it was definitely the one to innovate and build a driven culture that made the best of the opportunities that digital technologies presented. And here’s an important trick towards how a company like Netflix could do it: it wasn’t just on one person who was ‘in charge’ of innovating. It was a collaborative effort across all leaders with the CEO setting the right tone from the start. And building a company culture that allowed teams to innovate and take risks while being responsible for meeting company targets.
It's risky to assume that innovation comes from individual genius but is rather created through networks that can think and operate together. Leaders have the critical task of building, supporting, and leveraging such networks effectively. Although they have to be at the forefront of innovation, it's important to know that innovative practices can be built by others as well.
To do this effectively leaders need to cultivate a workplace environment that promotes continuous improvements and empowers its employees to innovate and figure out creative solutions to everyday work problems. Often, innovating to better solve a host of day to day problems can collectively account for a large level change within the company. Leaders must foster a commitment from the team to embrace an innovation mindset where each employee learns to apply the differences that exist in one another for their success and that of the organization.