Innovative employees are the dream surely? Team members who think unconventionally and bring new ideas for improving existing processes, and ways of working. Which can lead to greater efficiency, reduced waste and potentially new products?
But, as a leader, are you an innovation enabler? Or could you be stifling your team’s potential? Let’s reflect on the leadership behaviours that support innovation at work.
Role modelling innovation
One of the most effective ways to promote innovation in your team is to let them see you modelling that behaviour. In practice that means being optimistic and open to hearing and trying new ideas. If you normalise challenging traditional ways of working, then it will encourage others to do the same. Perhaps you could include a ‘how could we have done it better, faster or cheaper’ section to project reviews? This will prompt discussion around challenging the ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ thinking that can become embedded.
Feedback can take many forms. From a formal review to a casual catch up and everything in between. As a leader, it’s important to remember that, particularly for junior staff, their interactions with you will be significant to them. To best foster innovation, make sure that it is recognised and rewarded as part of both formal and informal sessions. Basically – put it on the personal development agenda!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so allow time for ideas to be refined and developed and accept that they won’t all be successful. That’s fine. Sometimes leaders find they have inherited a blame culture. This is always an uncomfortable working environment and is guaranteed to kill innovation. Instead, find ways to get collective buy-in to new ideas and to take group responsibility. On the flip side, when something new works well make sure to give credit to those who originated and developed the idea.
The best way to empower your team to be innovative is to involve them in decision making from the start to build a sense of ownership and responsibility for the success of the task, process or project. This helps them to feel invested in its success. Then it’s a matter of trusting your team to get the job done and giving them the space to do that.
Communication plays a key role in empowerment. If everyone is clear on the end goal and any interim deliverables, then the team should be allowed to work towards those in the manner that best suits them. Providing this freedom demonstrates your confidence in their abilities.
Gone should be the days of closed-door leadership! Your interpersonal style sets the tone for the team, and we spend far too long at work for leaders not to do their best to make it an enjoyable experience. Consider how accessible you are to your team. If you’re located in the same space then make sure you are visible, if you work remotely then factor ‘preamble’ time into meetings for general chat. Ask questions and start conversations. Remember and acknowledge significant events. Clearly, you have your own set of responsibilities but being available to your team often makes rely on you more rather than less. If they know they have ready access to you and that they are operating in an environment of trust, they may feel less need to check the small stuff with you.
We always like to hear from you. So do please get in touch to tell us work well – or not so well – in terms of enabling innovation in your organisation. Or have a look at some of the work we’ve done in this space.