Creating an innovation culture through effective leadership

Adopting a successful innovation culture in the workplace can only be achieved through strong and effective leadership.

Jon Lapham
by Jon Lapham
Innovation and leadership

Trying to build a strong innovation culture without effective leadership is like attempting to construct a building without the foundations. Solid leadership is key to a fruitful innovation output and must be carefully considered in order to maximise successes. It is the job of a leader to promote and support innovation within a company and in this post we will discuss the ways in which effective leadership can establish an innovation culture throughout your organisation.

“Being a bold leader is about having the confidence to make decisions that disrupt and therefore transform your business, preparing it for the future. It’s also about taking an integrated approach to decision making.” Janet Foutty, Deloitte Consulting

Lead by example

Failure to practice what you preach will leave employees feeling frustrated and demotivated, bringing innovation output to a swift halt. Every person within your organisation needs to be applying innovative thinking to their work and this should start at the top. A successful innovation leader does not need to be a creative genius but they do need to be able to communicate and motivate employees to join the process.

Remember that this is an all-inclusive endeavour and all staff need to be felt welcomed into the process in order to engage with it. Ensure that innovation is integrated into the overriding business objectives so that employees can visualise where it sits within the wider picture. Furthermore, include innovation on the formal agenda at all times, as this will enable colleagues to understand the importance that the senior members of the team attach to it. As a result, employees are more likely to get involved when they see the impact it could have on the business and how highly it is valued by those at the top of the organisation.

Make it safe to innovate

One of the great barriers to successful workplace innovation is a fear of failure. Often employees lack the confidence to push forward their ideas or do not feel motivated enough to proactively generate ideas in the first place. It is the responsibility of a leader to establish a safe space to innovate, in which a culture of openness is promoted and failure is seen as progress. Furthermore, the leader should operate an open-door policy to encourage collaboration and transparency between all teams and across all hierarchies.

A safe innovation space will encourage all members of the business to engage with the process, no matter their hierarchy. Just because an idea has come from the new intern does not mean it lacks credibility or value. Often these employees generate the best ideas, as they know the systems inside out. Accordingly, sometimes managers or directors can overlook what is important because they are removed from some of the internal processes, especially in larger companies.

Rewards and recognition

We often emphasise the importance of rewards and recognition in order to motivate and incentivise. Even the most steadfast employee requires acknowledgement that their hard work is paying off. As a leader you need to be establishing an effective reward system that will encourage participation.

Innovation does not just have to be about proactive innovation, it can also be reactive. In other words, set targets and challenges to give staff an objective to work towards and attach a reward. It is important to avoid only recognising short-term performance and to start considering the broader need for rewards.

Collaboration is key

Innovation is not a solitary pursuit and should bring together collective minds to create great ideas. Often new ideas spur other notions and as a result, bringing individuals together can significantly increase the pool of innovation concepts. A leader will need to generate a network of innovators where the creative juices can flow constantly and ideas can be continually bounced around and improved upon.

“The best leaders know that innovation must come from multiple sources, both internally and externally. When people and their different points of view and experiences converge, they create the types of innovations that individuals could not have done or found alone.” Glenn Llopis, Forbes

A hierarchical environment can be a hindrance to innovation, therefore it is necessary to break down these barriers. Champion the confident innovators to motivate the shy innovators in order to widen the net of input. Furthermore, when numerous people are involved with the generation of an idea, it helps to mitigate the risk involved, as the idea can be discussed and reviewed by various participants before it comes to fruition.

Key takeaways

  • Run a top-down initiative – lead by example and ensure that all senior members are onboarded so employees have multiple leads to follow.
  • Establish a safe innovation space that is built on mutual trust between staff and is characterised by openness and the dismissal of hierarchies.
  • Incentivise employees with an effective rewards and recognition system that is both sustainable and consistently implemented by leaders throughout the organisation.
  • Lead your teams in a way that encourages a network of innovators in order to establish a collaborative environment.

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