Innovation is the engine that enables a company to be energized and adaptive. But innovation won’t just happen on its own – it takes discipline and dedication. Today, companies that cultivate innovation will stay ahead of the curve, keep their organizations connected and create lasting relationships with customers.
Below are 6 key principles I have seen effective leaders rely on to cultivate innovation deep within their organizations:
- Innovation requires speed. The pace of business has changed. Returning to the pre-COVID-19-pandemic pace of business is no longer possible. Customers and partners expect speed. Leaders who retain the urgent decision-making and quick pivots born out of necessity during the pandemic will prove to their customers that they are flexible and committed partners.
- Innovation is necessary to exceed customer expectations. Successful companies innovate to quickly meet – and even anticipate – their customers’ changing needs. Rather than making assumptions about how their customer uses their products and services, they remain curious and dig into what customers need as circumstances change. When leaders stay closer to customers, they understand their goals, and innovation becomes much easier. To realize the customer now needs something completely new and different from what your company offers can certainly be intimidating. But it’s also a new and exciting opportunity to pivot to meet their needs and preserve the relationship.
- Innovation exists at every level. Innovation is everyone’s responsibility. But executive teams who encourage and reward innovation throughout their organization can nurture a culture of innovation. These leaders make a concerted effort to ensure everyone in the organization understands the key pillars of the company’s strategy. When leaders prompt employees to remain curious about how their work drives strategy, teams think innovatively throughout their daily work and seek to solve customer challenges with new ideas. Working together toward the same strategy also helps teams avoid the pitfalls of silos and myopic thinking.
- Innovation requires collaboration. Innovation cannot happen in a vacuum. It requires collaboration so everyone understands how the new product or service will affect each department. It requires listening to the customer at every stage of development. It also requires a rejection of insular thinking. When the right people weigh in, the right solutions arise quickly.
- Innovation is rooted in mission and purpose. Circumstances will change, sometimes rapidly. When making decisions, effective leaders stay true to their company’s mission, vision, purpose and values, regardless of the circumstances. A company can lose its way when innovation doesn’t align with an organization’s purpose or values. And when obstacles arise, CEOs can find comfort because they can return to their company purpose to spur new discovery and different ways to achieve that purpose in the current business environment.
- Innovation requires discipline. Disciplined leaders stay close to new innovation from inception all the way through to development and execution. They don’t just weigh in at the project kickoff and show up to the big reveal at the end. More checks and balances give the opportunity for more insight and collaboration rather than distant oversight and a big reveal that falls short.
In many companies, the informal water cooler talks now no longer happen due to the pandemic. So CEOs have become more deliberate about dedicating time to innovation. Teams have become more purposeful and are connecting on big ideas and concepts that lead to better outcomes. And this has opened leaders’ eyes to the value of collaboration. Ultimately, CEOs who listen and stay curious with internal teams, external customers and vendors generate creative and market-ready ideas and better products, services and processes.
Sam Reese is CEO of Vistage, the world’s largest CEO coaching and peer advisory organization for small and midsize businesses. Over his 35-year career as a business leader, Sam has led large and midsize organizations and has advised CEOs and key executives of companies all over the world. To learn how a peer advisory group can help you navigate challenges, make better decisions and achieve growth, visit vistage.com.