For innovation to genuinely become part of an organization’s DNA, everyone within the organization must understand and practice innovation in the context of their responsibilities.
Exactly how people do this will vary, depending on their role within the organization. Think of innovation as a textile or a fabric. With textiles, warp and weft are the components that turn individual threads into a cohesive fabric. Warp refers to the individual strands, while weft refers to a long, continuous strand woven through the individual warp fibers.
A culture of innovation is like the weft: weaving through all the individuals to create a cohesive, two-dimensional “fabric” where innovation is embedded throughout. However, it is the individual “warp” strands – the people in their various roles – that develop different innovations. Here’s how they can do that based on their roles within the organization. (Pro tip: You can download IdeaScale’s handy “Innovation Team Structure” infographic to help you visualize innovation roles.)
The Role of Executive Management in Innovation Leadership
Top leadership may not be in a position to develop specific process, product, or business model innovations, but when they define the company vision and remove roadblocks to innovation, they facilitate innovation for others. Individuals (or even teams) are unlikely to envision, prototype, and implement innovations if they don’t think they have the support of top management, so it’s critical that executives make their support clear. People on the front lines of innovation must also know that when they experience obstacles that hinder innovation, they can communicate this to top management and be heard.
The Role of Departmental Management in Innovation Leadership
Departmental leaders may have roles that are more administrative or managerial than “hands-on,” but they are often subject matter experts. Leaders at this level of the organization can have tremendous influence over innovation in their departments.
Here are some management practices that encourage the people who report to managers to pursue innovations:
- Generate engagement by asking for more information on innovative ideas.
- Add insights and solicit the insights of others.
- Define needs in terms of resources for pursuing innovations.
- Evaluate and prioritize ideas.
- Assign resources to the implementation of the best ideas.
Everyone’s Individual Role in Innovation Leadership
Some people’s job responsibilities lend themselves to innovation more directly than others. For example, everyone expects the people in R&D to innovate. However, that doesn’t mean that innovation should be contained within the walls of R&D and nowhere else. Anyone in any role is capable of developing innovative ideas that improve processes, or that lead to brand new products. It’s everyone’s job to develop the ideas they come up with, to communicate them to the right people, and to support others when they do so.
In companies with formal innovation programs, everyone can assist by participating in innovation platforms. They may have the opportunity to vote on innovative ideas or make suggestions that put innovations one step closer to reality. Leadership must encourage everyone to participate in innovation initiatives, even if their main form of participation is evaluating and voting on ideas that others have submitted.
Innovation must be more than just a buzzword, and companies can’t expect innovation to happen just because they say they’re in favor of it. Everyone at every level must be educated on the importance of innovation, and better still, they should see for themselves how employees’ great ideas are developed and implemented. To learn more, IdeaScale invites you to download our disruptive innovation infographic.