Global crises like COVID-19 or Black Swan events are not catalysts for leaders to think about the future. Future-focused leaders think about renewal all of the time, how to reposition products and services, and how to differentiate and create new demand or markets.
Planning for the future is inherently something that is expected of leaders, as they are ultimately responsible for leading the organisation towards continuous growth and prosperity. The complex business environment we find ourselves in today demonstrates just how fragile business models can be.
Recent research shows that the Covid pandemic not only tested the agility and resilience of organisations, it also forces a deeper look at the assumptions we are making about managerial decisions and most organisational practices. Think Working From Home (WFH), the impact on teams and creativity, remote collaborations and running innovation projects , from getting ideas to deciding on the best ones to implement. The way we work and innovate have changed possibly forever!
When starting innovation in your organisation, there are several things to consider, some activities include:
Knowing your industry
How do you stay a the edge of your industry, close to your customers and how do you find, validate and decide on new products, services or business models for your organisation? As an organisation, this is an important question to answer because without having insights on where your industry is going, the current trends and what possibly could disrupt your business, you will not innovate on the right things – neither will you know how to disrupt the status quo.
Vision and intent
Have you thought about how to build a repeatable innovation capability in your organisation? What about a strategy depicting your actions or an innovation roadmap for the next 6 months? A 200-page innovation strategy is not needed, it could even be a massive waste of time but a plan to get you from complacent and reactive to innovative and nimble, building innovation capability that will take your organisation into the future is necessary. It needs to fit your specific organisation as well. Talk is cheap but doers make progress.
The who and how much
Anything that is going to yield desirable results will need investment. You need to think about more than just money. Successful innovation does require people, structure, tools, skills development and culture change. Rome was never built in a day, everything does not have to happen at once and there are various ways to skin a cat. I am quite an opposer of the big bang approach! Big bang innovation and huge upfront sunken investments are not always the place to start – it more often than not leads to innovation theatre (putting up a show without really achieving the results). Innovation readiness can trip companies over. Start in small incremental steps, on a low budget if you have to, learn as you go, fail fast – but start.
Culture, change and people
Innovation technology and suitable tools and structures form the backbone of an innovation drive, it builds capability and enables your organisation’s innovation roadmap and strategy. Future-focused leaders know, however, that your success lies in your people. It is the culture of the organisation, the people within it and hearing the voice of those closest to your customer that will make innovation work. Culture change and innovation skills development are crucial for innovation success.
Truly great leaders understand that their everyday actions are one of the most powerful signals to their teams and organisations that innovation truly matters and they take the required steps to become a more innovative organisation. A study by McKinsey recently used research to show that innovation is the launchpad out of the crises. This poses the question many are pondering at the moment, what do we need to change to survive and thrive through this current, almost never-ending situation?
According to a Forbes article by Robert Tucker, the answer is innovation. In particular developing the skills, mindsets and tools to help leaders get there. According to Tucker, leaders need to think about, and take responsibility for various innovation-related actions. They need to:
- Constantly challenge assumptions, as nothing new happens if we continue to do it the way we always have
- Develop empathy for the end customer, do we understand the needs of the end customer properly, and do leaders (and the people in the organisation) understand the business they are in on a deeper level
- Proactively think ahead of the curve, things happen fast if we are not aware of them. Have you ever tried to walk around in the dark without a flashlight? Every organisation needs its own version of a flashlight to successfully navigate constant change
- Continuously fortify the idea factory, shortage of ideas are never really the problem, it is about getting from “a-ha to done” in a consistent manner and this is where your innovation programme comes in
- Build buy-in, in a world where going viral happens frequently, one tends to forget that good ideas often needs help with creating buy-in to get over the finish line. Persuasion is an essential, and developable skill.
And yes, future-focused leaders need to DO innovation!
*This article was adapted for and first published by Nedbank’s Simply Biz Programme. Another version is available on the Innocentrix Website.
What has changed? The Impact of Covid Pandemic on the Technology and Innovation Management Research Agenda – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/joms.12634
 Based on the article: Six Innovation Leaderships Skills everybody needs to master – https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertbtucker/2017/02/09/six-innovation-leadership-skills-everybody-needs-to-master104ef35d46