“Leadership is action, not position.”
Donald H. McGannon, Former Chairman of Group W, Westinghouse Broadcasting and Cable Inc
“Do as I say, not as I do” is a phrase I think most people can remember their parents using when they were a child. I remember thinking this was an unfair management technique when I was ten years old, and nothing has changed now I’m fully grown.
If an authority figure has one set of rules for themselves and another for those they manage, it often fosters resentment. And if employees aren’t happy, productivity suffers. The same applies to innovating successfully.
For innovation to be successful, it requires strong leadership. Unfortunately research we’ve recently conducted shows that this isn’t happening to the extent required. The figures show that 48% of UK employees don’t believe that innovation is embedded within their employer’s leadership team.
Senior leadership cannot merely develop an innovation strategy and then sit back. They must:
- Communicate strategy clearly across the entire organisation: The average employee currently has no understanding of what innovation means to their employer (72%). Everyday Innovation requires the unequivocal involvement of the entire organisation and without a clear understanding of a strategy, then the workforce is highly unlikely to be able to successfully drive the business towards it.
- Commit to practicing innovation: Employees are more likely to prioritise and take innovation seriously if senior management is seen driving the conversation and activity on a regular basis. Full management sponsorship creates momentum. Research from Aon Hewitt shows that companies with strong financial results have high levels of engagement from senior managers. Without engaged senior leadership, companies will not be able to engage the hearts and minds of their employees. As it stands, just one third (32%) of employees identify board-level employees as taking the lead in driving innovation in the workplace.
- Make it safe to innovate: Failure is a natural part of innovation. Of every 100 new consumer products that come to market, 80-90% fail. But most people still work in a culture which punishes failure. Instead, senior business leaders should embrace, evaluate and even encourage it. Many of today’s most successful businesses have been built by leaders who welcome brave decisions and unusual thinking, whether it works the first time or not. Mark Zuckerberg’s guiding philosophy, the “Hacker Way”, openly encourages Facebook employees to “make bold decisions, even if that means being wrong some of the time.” Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and Space X, states, “failure is just a step in the path towards fantastic.”
For more advice on how to innovate successfully, download our Everyday Innovation Report