How to encourage innovation as a leader

In an era of increasing disruption, leaders often feel pressure to perform and produce new ideas regularly. While leaders play an essential role in inspiring and cultivating innovation, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. There are, however, several ways to ensure that your environment and processes are optimized to nurture innovation and successful outcomes.

Environment

Foster a culture of excitement. Are your team members excited about what they’re working on? It’s essential to create an ongoing sense of excitement when discussing new ideas and brainstorming, as this contributes to innovation. While not every step has to be thrilling, it’s important that employees feel like what they’re working towards has value, to them or to others. To cultivate this, focus on the problem that your team is working to solve, rather than the solution. Create incentives that inspire your team, other than financial rewards. Lastly, be sure to give recognition to team members who are doing great work and make their work visible across the organization when appropriate.

Embrace failure, but encourage honesty. If your team is afraid of the consequences of failure, they will likely avoid trying anything new or different. I’ve previously discussed why failure is essential to innovation. Remember that innovation often arises out of experimentation, so people need to feel safe when playing around with trial and error. It is also important to encourage frank discussions amongst teams. Create an environment where employees can speak openly and respectfully. As a leader, it’s your job to set the tone by being open to constructive criticism toward your own ideas and experiments.

As a leader, it’s your job to set the tone by being open to constructive criticism toward your own ideas and experiments.

Hire with care. Having the right people on your team is crucial. Not only do you want to screen for competence and ability to do the job at hand, you also want to be aware of culture fit. How will this potential employee interact with your team? Are they able to collaborate and experiment without making avoidable mistakes? Will this person contribute a new perspective to your discussions? These questions are key to consider when deciding whether to hire someone new.

Processes

Treat innovation like a science experiment. If you ever participated in a science fair, you know that experiments have a hypothesis and a plan of action. When innovating, it’s important to follow a similar procedure. Don’t just try things for the sake of trying them. Have an idea of what you expect to achieve with an experiment, follow a structured approach, and learn to recognize when an idea is no longer worth pursuing.

Seek out different perspectives. Collaboration is an essential aspect of innovation. When discussing or brainstorming a new idea, don’t immediately shoot anything down. Instead, listen to your team members and ask questions. Also, be sure to leave your silo once in a while. Learn what other people on your team are doing or even explore a different department to get fresh ideas and perspectives. Interact with everyone on your team. As a leader, it can sometimes feel as though your every minute is booked but making time for team members will help you see through a new lens, as well as encourage your team to collaborate.

Embrace accountability. It’s entirely possible to collaborate as a team while still holding individuals accountable for their own work. Delegation is key here, but so is letting your team members own the decisions they make. Most of the time, people will request feedback when faced with an important decision, which further encourages collaboration.

Leaders have a responsibility to their teams to create the healthiest environments and processes to handle ongoing demands as the world explores more emerging technologies. Hopefully, these tips will help more teams optimize for innovation. What does your team do to foster innovation?

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