Innovation comes naturally to humans. Ask virtually anyone to perform a repetitive task and watch how quickly they improve it. And keep improving it. Yet despite being filled with humans, organizations regularly fail to leverage this natural ability. It’s almost as if organizations are designed to do anything but innovate.
That’s a shame, because innovation is the key to unlocking the productivity, growth, and market leadership organizations seek. Innovative organizations drive greater output from existing resources, yielding increased revenue and market share. This economic growth, where both the top and bottom lines increase, powers innovative organizations to lead, dominate, and disrupt their markets.
Innovation should not be left to chance. It must be harnessed and organized to provide a steady stream of new and even ground-breaking ideas. It requires the entire organization working in concert to leverage innovation into competitive and strategic advantages.
There are four keys to enabling an innovative organization. Each would greatly improve any organization. Together they ensure continuous innovation. At the risk of oversimplifying, I will cover the four here at the highest level to show how they work together. Other articles will cover them in depth.
1. An Innovative Culture
Innovation is about increasing the productivity of existing resources. Only humans can do that, whether by improving processes, inventing tools, or applying technology. People are innovative, technology is not.
Similarly, all people are innovative, not just technologists. The most innovative people in any organization are those who know the business best, those closest to the customer. They know how to increase productivity, especially in collaboration with one another.
True innovation happens iteratively and collectively. The best ideas come in stages, with many minds contributing and learning through the process, from both successes and failures. An innovative culture is the medium through which this knowledge travels.
If they feel safe taking risks and experimenting to improve the business, if they know that everyone else in the organization feels the same way, if they know that they will be supported even when their efforts fail, they will constantly innovate.
And there’s no better recruiting and retention strategy than an innovative culture.
2. A Strategic Leadership Team
While an innovative culture drives increased productivity and growth, a strategic leadership team steers that innovative output through the market place, ensuring it has the maximum impact.
When innovation is unleashed, great ideas bubble up through the organization. Not all will be appropriate for the market, and some will be more appropriate at another time. It’s critical to decide which to implement and when.
Strategy is what guides these decisions. It’s the roadmap through the market, the path to the vision. It’s knowing the products and services the market needs, and then manipulating the market in favor of those products and services.
Only a leadership team with a process that integrates innovation, strategy, and tactical operations can provide the proper context for innovative ideas to succeed. Successful innovation encourages more innovation and strengthens the innovative culture.
3. A Scalable Organizational Design
Innovation drives growth. But if an organization cannot scale to that growth, and needs reorganizing, that growth and further innovation are compromised.
Reorganization is perhaps the single greatest productivity killer. Announcing a reorganization instantly changes the focus from the future of the organization to the future of the individual. People stop taking risks and experimenting. They stop innovating.
Successful innovation requires an organizational design that not only promotes innovation but scales to the resultant growth. A design that allows the regular addition and subtraction of products and services in support of the experimentation inherent to innovation.
A scalable organizational design enables an innovative organization to focus on producing growth instead of wrestling with it.
4. Post-heroic Leadership Ranks
An innovative culture needs careful maintenance to continually increase productivity and drive growth. It falls to the leadership ranks to nurture the culture and empower the membership to innovate. Only post-heroic leaders can do this effectively.
Innovation requires a culture of trust and teamwork, where people feel safe extending beyond their own spheres and self-interests. A post-heroic leader promotes this culture by creating a movement, individuals focused on their collective success, inspired and empowered to fulfill their own potential.
In contrast, a heroic leader creates a following, individuals focused on their own success, and that of the leader. While individuals may still innovate, heroic leadership does not foster the collaborative culture that drives an innovative organization. In fact, an innovative culture cannot survive heroism.
When deployed from the top down, post-heroic leadership keeps an innovative culture, and consequently an innovative organization, alive and thriving.
An innovative culture is the power system of an innovative organization, constantly improving productivity and driving growth. A strategic leadership team is the guidance system, providing the proper context for this innovative output and steering the organization through the market. A scalable organizational design is the support system, growing and shrinking as needed to promote innovation and support the resultant growth. And post-heroic leadership ranks are the maintenance system, nurturing the culture and ensuring continuous innovation.
Achieve even some of that, and your organization starts accelerating toward your goals. Achieve all of it, and your innovative organization will consistently lead, dominate, and disrupt the market.