In these days organizations can only grow and inoculate themselves against dramatic disruption if they have a culture of innovation. Disrupt or be disrupted. But what are you supposed to do to create a culture of innovation?
Sujay Shah – Founder of Kii Naturals
I recently met with my cousin in Canada. I was really impressed with the growth and success of his latest business. He was twice a finalist for Ernst & Young’s entrepreneur of the year. Further his company was also recognised as one of Canada’s best managed companies by Deloitte for the last 5 consecutive years. What impressed me most was that his company, Kii Naturals had innovation as a core business strategy. I believe that we can all learn from innovative companies like Kii Naturals. I believe culture eats strategy for breakfast. As a leader you need to create a culture of innovation, I suggest these seven ways:
- Model innovation yourself. My cousin led from the front. He is always looking at how he can serve his customers in a more unique way. He has taken time to deeply understand what his customers need and want. He went on to develop innovative products that truly met their needs. His initial product was flat bread and then he realised that the market was ready for another type of healthy alternative – artisan crisps. Team leadership begins with self leadership, and it’s hard to insist on traits we don’t embody.
- Build in regular time for innovation. At Google & 3M they allow individuals to spend 10-15% of their time on tinkering with new projects. Gmail was a result of such tinkering time! Innovation needs to be part of the regular work week.
- Share your expectations about innovation. Nobody can read your mind. I know—as a leader this sometimes bums me out, too. But it’s the truth, and that’s why leaders can’t over-communicate on this point. It’s useless holding people to standards you don’t set for them. If you want something, let them know.Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be with coming up with something new. It can be about improving what is already there. Having your entire team focussed on constant and never ending improvement (CANI as Tony Robbins calls it) is crucial for an innovative culture.
- Make innovation one of your core values. How important is innovation to you, really? Core values are the DNA of an organization. They shape, direct, and replicate. But here’s the reality: If being innovative isn’t truly critical for you, it won’t become critical for your team either. At Kii Naturals, I saw the entire top management team from across all departments take part in taste tests for a new product. Everyone’s input was important for a new product.
- Recognise innovation in real time. You get more of what you encourage. When you have teammates who have innovative ideas, lift them up then and there. And do it publicly. Let people know this is a quality that gets you excited, that it’s something central to the success of the team and something you’re actively looking for.Pick one specific Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for a quarter and have everyone in your team look at ways to improve it. Make it the Wildly Important Goal for the quarter. I’m a great believer in “what gets measured gets done.”
- Reward innovation on a regular basis. It’s important to do more than recognizing innovation in the moment. It’s also important to encourage it long-term. Regular rewards are a great way to do that. These motivators can be extrinsic (such as yearly bonuses) or intrinsic (such as greater opportunities for growth and advancement). Maybe you can fund the best new innovations or have a prize for the best innovation. Peter Diamandis will tell you that incentivising innovation through prizes works. Companies like Elon Musk’s Space-X are the result of such prizes.
- Give people room to make mistakes. Innovation can only happen if you allow your people to “fail forward.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve met very few perfect people in my lifetime. I can count them on no hands. The reality is that everybody makes mistakes. We’re all loss averse to one degree or another. What that means is if you punish mistakes you’ll encourage people to not take risks. Kiss innovation goodbye. If you give the right people room to make mistakes, they’ll learn how to take better risks.
So ask that question yourself. If you’re seeing a lack of innovation on your team, what is it about your leadership that created this situation? Then ask which of these seven ways might help you turn it around.
When we own an outcome, we have the power to change it.
Question: Which of these strategies will you implement this week to inspire team innovation? You can leave a comment below.