Best Practices for Leading Innovation

For innovation leadership to be more than just empty words, companies must understand innovation, determine the best ways to encourage it, be willing to put resources behind it, and understand the importance of the word “practices” in the term “best practices.”

Group of colleagues sitting around a circle looking at information displayed on a laptop computer.

Best practices can’t just be words on a page either. They have to be put to work every day if they are to have any effect. Think about a skill you have, whether it’s downhill skiing, writing poetry, or playing the cello. You didn’t just decide to do it and acquire proficiency at it without practicing regularly. Innovation is similar. You have to practice the best practices of innovation leadership to see the great results. Here’s how to do that.

Understand and Monitor Company Culture

A study by researchers at George Washington University combed through existing literature on the factors that promote innovation, and one of the recommendations they make based on their research is developing the right group norms. This is a huge element of company culture, and it can make or break innovation success. 

The group norms recommended in the study include:

  • Encouraging trust
  • Encouraging and rewarding the sharing of information
  • Creating an atmosphere of respectful sharing and listening to ideas

Again, it’s easy to say that you do these things, but it’s quite another to take stock and determine whether the cultural norms you espouse are actually carried out on a daily basis. If the company culture doesn’t provide the right conditions for innovation, then innovation leadership can do very little.

Be Willing to Cross Departmental and Team Boundaries

Rigid team, departmental, and project-based “silos” are remarkably effective at stifling innovation. That’s why leadership must encourage and reward the sharing of information and personnel when necessary. Sometimes the main thing standing in the way of innovation is the fact that someone with a critical skill or knowledge set is part of another team or department and cannot (or will not) be shared with an innovation team. 

Group of colleagues clapping and smiling while working together.

Innovation teams have to draw on the right skills, and companies have to recognize the wealth of talent they already have on staff and be willing to put it to its best use. When rigid organizational structures prevent sharing of ideas, resources, and human capital, innovation will take place much more slowly, if at all. 

Establish and Use a Defined Innovation Process

Finally, companies must understand that innovation doesn’t just spring up of its own volition. Sure, on the rare occasion someone will have a breakthrough idea, but you can’t count on those rare instances to put you ahead of competitors. Neither can you trust that employees will go to their leaders when they have innovative ideas. 

Companies must establish and practice a defined innovation process. The process must include solicitation of ideas, defined processes for evaluating and prioritizing them, as well as processes for selecting some of them for implementation and carrying them through. It’s a lot of work, but like all best practices, it becomes more natural and easier the more you do it. 

Few things inspire innovation like the success of previous innovative ideas, which is why it’s so important for companies to show that they take innovation seriously by putting the resources necessary behind great ideas and actually putting them to use.  

Is it time for your organization to develop the best practices and processes that make innovation work for you? If so, IdeaScale invites you to get the Innovation Starter Kit.

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