Feeling uneasy about a proposal that seems far-fetched? Inadvertently foiling your colleague’s idea? Try to have an open mind because “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” as the iconic innovator, Steve Jobs, once remarked. Also because innovation has long been considered the lifeblood of an organization (a 2013 PwC study cited a direct correlation between innovation and revenue growth.)
Yet, despite its enormous potential, innovation is poorly facilitated in the workplace. Innovators can be viewed as “too out there” or unrealistic by peers and leaders, which results in a poor culture, stagnation, and loss of revenue. A rather grim study by Bain & Company found that less than one-quarter of companies consider themselves to be effective innovators.
As a leader, you don’t want to be the one to foil the innovators. Here is how to have an open mind, and build a successful and repeatable model for innovation that should be top-of-mind for you and your company. More so than anything else, innovation requires strong communication skills.
1. Facilitate inclusive conversations
Diversity creates a ripe breeding ground for innovation. A recent study spearheaded by researchers at North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management found that companies with a diverse workforce are more adept at developing innovative products and services.
As a leader, you’ll optimize your team’s innovation potential by fostering an inclusive environment. Research by Cisco found that inclusive practices were the second most significant enabler of IoT innovations (second only to the quality of technology.) Encourage your employees to partake in brainstorming activities. The objective should be one of co-creation. Use inclusive language (“we” and “team” as opposed to “I” and “you," for example.) Invite all team members to contribute. Celebrate diverse perspectives, viewpoints, and opinions. Divergent thinking and exploration are mission-critical, especially throughout the idea generation stages. It's incumbent on you to ensure all employees feel psychologically safe to contribute to brainstorming sessions.
2. Leverage metaphors and analogies
Innovation entails galvanizing your employees to buy into your vision. If you fail to clearly and compellingly articulate your vision, you’ll fall short in securing buy-in. Effective communication
Innovative ideas often begin as abstract concepts that can be difficult to conceptualize. The use of metaphors and analogies can serve as effective instruments for communicating innovative ideas and concepts. By making the unfamiliar more familiar, metaphors and analogies can assist team members in making important cognitive leaps that are central to grasping your vision. It's not surprising that a 2010 study published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that physicians who leveraged more metaphors and analogies elicited better communication ratings among patients. Don’t underestimate the power of figurative language in enriching your
3. Encourage moderate levels of conflict
Somewhat paradoxically, much scientific evidence supports the fact that a team’s innovation potential is heightened in the presence of healthy levels of conflict. Case in point: a 2006 study published in the Journal of Management found a curvilinear relationship between innovation and task conflict. As a leader, you should strive to promote a moderate amount of conflict throughout the innovation process. Don't attempt to resolve conflict immediately. Instead, encourage different viewpoints. Read the room, emphasize with different viewpoints, and facilitate healthy debate. Above all, aim to encourage task conflict rather than relationship conflict (which has been shown to negatively impact innovation potential.) Ensure a clear delineation between person
You need innovation in order to stay competitive. In fact, a groundbreaking 2014 study by PwC found that 43% of business executives believe that innovation is a “competitive necessity.” The potential for innovation is heightened when leaders exhibit strong communication skills...and this doesn’t have to be complicated or involve hiring a large R&D team (a study conducted by Booz & Company found that businesses that invested heavily in R&D aren't any more innovative than their lower-spending counterparts.) Remember that an executive coach can assist you in cultivating conflict management, problem-solving, and other essential communication skills that are prerequisites for inspiring innovation among your employees.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at