Founder & Head Coach/CEO, The Funds2Orgs Group.

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As a business leader, the chances are that you’ve read a lot about innovation in recent years. There’s a reason for it. As the world embraced technology more and more, Silicon Valley’s ethos – to fail fast and often – began to permeate beyond its borders in California. It’s only expected that, eventually, Silicon Valley’s ideas would spread through every aspect of our society.

Then 2020 happened, and there was a definitive break from the industrial to the digital age. As it continues its march into every aspect of our lives, innovation gets touted as the essential ingredient for success. And while that’s true, something struck me as I read the umpteenth article about the need for leaders to innovate.

How?

By now, business leaders understand that they have to create innovation labs in their businesses. The logical next question is how entrepreneurs do it who don’t own companies in Silicon Valley.

How Not To Innovate

Before moving into how to innovate, let’s explore what not to do. Understandably, in 2020 there was a massive push toward remote work. Candidly, while this works fine for many companies, it doesn’t do so for mine. As a business leader, all of my employees work on-site, and that’s because I believe in the energy and dynamism brought by sharing the same space. That said, I have freelancers and consultants who’ve worked with us for years, and those are the only ones who don’t come into the office setting.

In short, leaders have to remain true to their ideals and values. Amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, I had plenty of conversations with other business leaders. As they struggled with whether or not to go fully remote or create hybrid situations, I remember one business leader suggesting that he would allow small dogs into the work area to entice people to get back into the office.

Again, while that’s an idea that works in some companies, my advice was to keep the dogs home. Dogs don’t help people innovate, and focus is necessary, accompanied by agility to recover from the strains brought to companies by the pandemic. Therefore, whatever you do, innovation doesn’t come from distractions. Dogs, games and free lunches won’t get your company innovating. While we have games and even a bar in our offices, our ability to pivot and develop new ideas doesn’t come from these activities.

How To Innovate In Your Company

In my experience, the following are the essential elements for innovation at any company, including small businesses with limited resources.

Culture Starts At The Top

I know the idea of everything starting with leadership gets said countless times, but that’s because it matters. Leaders have to have a vision, set the tone and create the space for innovation. Innovation is creativity in action. But for that to fully bloom within your company, it also means everyone’s got to be responsible and accountable.

In other words, every position – no matter the level – has to have measurability associated with the work. Nothing happens without getting measured. Thankfully, the digital age has excellent tools for managing time and projects, operational budgeting, sales, etc.

Once leadership clarifies that everyone is accountable and responsible, it creates the culture within a company that adults work here. And once everyone feels empowered as reliable workers, that’s when you’ve laid the foundation for the creativity necessary for innovation.

Integrating The Digital And Physical Spaces For Collaboration

Business innovation comes from people brainstorming and sharing ideas. It also comes from them getting a good sense of the challenges and opportunities that exist for a company. For any of this to happen, people have to spend time together. That’s why for us, I want people in the offices.

That said, one of our teams is a hybrid team with virtual freelancers and on-site leadership. They’ve worked well as a team for years because they share weekly virtual meetings, have project platforms that keep them all accountable and leadership continually challenges them to do better and more than their last project.

Therefore, collaboration is essential for innovation. People have to see each other and share the same digital and physical spaces all the time. In short, leadership has to ensure that collaboration occurs and feeds on itself by providing the proper tools and resources (e.g., virtual conferences, tech platforms for cooperation).

Drive Creativity And Risk-Taking In Every Way Possible

Again, innovation comes from creativity, which is a distinctly human trait. To bring those ideas into your company, you need to hire and retain talent that demonstrates creative and critical thinking. Therefore, in your recruitment and management processes, you have to show people that creativity and strategic risk-taking are essential values at your company.

Risk-taking has to become part of your company’s DNA, and the only way to take reasonable risks is to come up with calculated solutions. How do you generate creative risk-taking? One solution is to remove all friction. For instance, you could have a team entrusted with creating edge initiatives with minimal approval. One of the things I like to do is to create secondary and pilot brands in different markets and have our teams figure out how to gain market share.

Successes for projects have to get celebrated, but failures need to be transparent and acceptable. You should allow everyone in your company to understand what’s happening with any initiatives and clarify that the project or initiative is a test. Be transparent about successes and failures. If you need to make tweaks, go for it. And if the bottom line is that one effort failed fully, quickly get your team moving onto the next challenge.

In sum, innovation is indeed an essential ingredient in success in business. But, committing to creating the space for it to happen is fundamental. Moreover, being consistent with it, standing back and letting your team get creative, and getting comfortable with risks will allow your company to level up your company’s profitability.


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