Our faster changing and highly digitalized world requires us more and more to stand out from the crowd by developing innovations. But how can you as a leader, be it alone or with your team, generate new and fresh ideas? We defined the core competencies that boost innovations in your organization and did some research on unconventional methods that foster the development of ideas.
Developing competencies in digital ages
Especially in times of the digitalization, due to constantly changing environments and the change of generations on the job market, competencies such as the ability to be self-reflective, empathy and communication skills like listening are strongly demanded. Leaders are more and more challenged, and their hierarchical status is often questioned. To be continuously successful, high social competence is needed.
The concept of “Social Workspace Learning” focuses in particular on the development of competencies on the workspace. As the name already indicates, you learn less with external inputs but more from and with each other. Ideally, the requested skills are closely tied to the corporate goals, which define the desired behavior of the employees. As a result, learning effects emerge by using and including the social surroundings and by being as close as possible to the real working life. To support this, technical methods like learning transfer platforms and access to blended learning can be implemented as well. This creates a social integration and tasks that can be combined with the daily work. The effect of this can be enormous, if the concept is well aligned with the corporate goals.
For instance, a common measure is the introduction of peer consulting as a tool in the organization – either externally or internally moderated. Employees meet for a mutual exchange and receive impulses to challenges they deal with from their fellow co-workers from different departments. Other instruments that we at MDI work with are mentoring, network meetings and eLearning nuggets.
Leaders as key players in innovation management
In order that leaders are able to secure the future success of their organization and to actively promote innovation management, competencies like cooperation abilities and being able to trust others as a leader are essential. Hierarchies are getting flatter and due to the current technologization leaders cannot have expert knowledge in all parts of their business. As a result they need to be able to count on the skills of others and really empower others – what might feel like losing control at first, is inevitable to find the best solution for complex situations. Other crucial keywords in this context are networking, interdisciplinarity and diversity. Social skills are needed here for creating valuable networks and implementing different perspectives in the solution process. The more diverse the network is, the more leaders will get new impulses that will boost their team and organization innovatively.
Now, how does a corporate-innovation-strategy have to look like to give leaders the opportunity to actively help shape innovation processes? Helping to shape is already half the answer because interdisciplinarity is essential for innovation. Instead of providing an innovation strategy you should dare to use more creative approaches – for example Design Thinking, Hackathons, Working Out Loud – to create your own strategy with leaders from different departments or even external professionals.
Even more important than clear specifications is to provide the right context so that everyone in the company is enabled and willing to create their creative all-time-high. Daniel Pink provides valuable insights and practical examples with his successful concept DRIVE – Motivation 3.0. What should not be forgotten: New ideas need to get the chance to be taken seriously. In other words: It’s worth providing employees with tools to promote innovative ideas that they are convinced of. Here we use the lateral leadership approach because it fits best and we gathered very satisfying results with it.
Practical ways of implementing innovation strategies in trainings
Fun is an important factor when it comes to generating innovative and creative ideas. You have to leave your comfort zone, work on something with enthusiasm and have clear tools that help when you get stuck.
To report from my own experience: I have developed the most innovative ideas by using connotations. For example, new tools for customer loyalty had to be found and by using the connotations to a subject we created innovative ideas that have already been implemented.
At the same time, you have to be able to accept a quick reality check after those creative phases. Not everything that is developed as an idea has to or can be implemented. Having fun failing – that’s the spirit when it comes to innovations. This approach comes from the improvisation theater, which by the way also offers many impulses for leaders on how to solve the challenges of your everyday work as a leader.
I highly value creativity and innovation tools that come from the direction of Serious Games and gamification. Playing is something very natural for us humans and can also evoke real excitement. There is a broad spectrum: Similar to Roulette, bets can be placed on the best idea or methods from the improvisation theater can be used where you put yourself in an unknown situation and play through it with your team. These methods can be very helpful to unfold the common creative potential.
These gamification methods are also great for dealing with the challenges that the urge for innovation comes with. There exists a huge number of tools and concepts that foster internal innovation and creativity in a team and are connected with low effort. My tip at this point: Just be creative and try what fits the organization, the team and yourself best.
Inspiration can come from many different directions: Be it Lego® Serious Play® or other approaches that come from IT, for example SCRUM. Many work successfully with OKR (objectives and key results), a goal-achievement-framework. Of course, using it on organizational level comes with the greatest leverage effect but also using it “only” in teams can be highly effective due to the top-down-bottom-up approach, flexible quarterly planning and permanent coordination with department and corporate goals offer a perfect base for working innovatively.
In this spirit:
Let’s be playful and develop!
About the author: Insa Meier is MDI Senior Consultant and furthermore works as a coach and trainer. Together with her clients she develops tailormade solutions, concepts and programs for and with managers on different levels. During her work she highly values clarity, humor and the creation of additional values for and with each other. Her experience ranges from traditional trainings for leaders to team development and the support of complex development programs for organizations.