Eight Organizational Qualities that Drive Innovation
One of today’s hottest buzzwords in business is innovation. Innovation in new cutting-edge products and technologies, medical breakthroughs, supply chain solutions, military strategies, etc. Everyone wants to be seen as innovative, but not every company is capable of nurturing a mindset that consistently produces novel ideas and solutions.
The good news is that innovation doesn’t require your organization to have every possible skill set under its roof. To develop first-to-market products, money-saving solutions and winning battlefield tactics, seek out these qualities in leaders and team members.
Without a clear and well-defined strategy, teams lack the direction and focus necessary to innovate productively. Compare a generic strategy statement like “to be the Navy’s preferred vendor” versus a specific strategy of “to be the Navy’s trusted vendor for sourcing hard-to-find and out-of-production marine machinery parts.” The former lacks any guidance on how to achieve the strategy, while the latter provides a path forward. Your company’s strategy should be unique and relevant to your core business and its strengths. Every member of your organization should be hyper-aware of the strategy and relentlessly pursue it through their daily actions.
Equally as important as staying focused on the strategy is considering the needs of your customers. What are their pain points? What will make their jobs easier, more efficient or save them money? Don’t just guess their answers — ask them! Conducting both qualitative and quantitative research can unlock valuable customer insights. As an added bonus, many innovative companies also find inspiration in their research and conversations with customers.
The inherent character traits of natural-born leaders tend to inspire those around them. Managers who wield their authority to get results rely on command and hierarchy, while true leaders possess an influence over teams that encourages creative thinking and problem-solving. Having people in your organization who are natural leaders, regardless of official title or rank, will elevate the thinking of everyone on their team.
Doers Who Can Implement Ideas
Coming up with an idea is sometimes the easiest part of innovating. But then comes the hard work: selling the idea to leadership, building a prototype, bringing a new product to market and creating customer demand. This is why you need doers on your team — people who will roll up their sleeves and know how to implement ideas.
Every new idea carries a certain level of associated risks. Those risks manifest themselves in a variety of ways — they could use up a team’s valuable time, break the status quo, incur steep research and development costs, or detract from more urgent work streams and projects. Ultimately, the idea might fail. But that’s okay. If the culture of your organization has no appreciation for the learnings that come with failure, innovation will be snuffed out before an idea can ever ignite.
Give employees the freedom to experiment and fail without endangering their careers. Each time a failure occurs, have a debriefing session to discuss why and how the problem could be approached differently the next time. This process will educate the team and help senior managers identify endeavors that are failing sooner so more resources can be allocated to those ideas with potential. To better manage risk from the onset, map out the expected risks and rewards of each innovation project to help decide which ones make the most sense to pursue.
Trust and Open-mindedness
When sharing a new idea about approaching a process differently or inventing a new product, more ideas can thrive if they are surrounded by an environment of trust. Team members need to feel confident they can verbalize ideas — even the less conventional ones — without reprimand from peers or managers. When a bright new idea arises, an employee must also trust that no one will “steal” their idea and take the credit. More ideas will come to the surface when managers champion their teams’ ideas, creativity is encouraged, and appropriate resources are allocated for implementation.
Many organizations subscribe to the adage “fail fast and fail cheap.” The notion is to test an idea, process or prototype on a small scale to assess its feasibility prior to investing massive time and funding resources. Mock-ups, simulations and customer focus groups are effective ways to implement an innovation without a long-term commitment. If during the prototyping stage, an idea is failing to succeed or achieve the desired outcome, seek to determine the root of the problem, learn from it, and then move along to the next trial.
Group think has been the killer of many innovative possibilities in organizations over the decades. Not only is the desire for conformity counterproductive, large group settings often stifle opinions and ideas from introverts. To get the best ideas out of people of varying personality types and working styles, set clear goals and then give employees freedom to chart their own path without micromanagement. Provide coaching assistance as warranted, but let teams make and learn from their mistakes so they can ultimately become better problem solvers.
Custom Courses to Drive Innovation from the Institute for Defense and Business
If you want to drive an innovation culture within your organization, the Institute for Defense and Business can build a course customized to your business’ unique needs. Learn more about our custom course offerings and virtual programs that can help your organization solve complex problems.
The Institute for Defense and Business (IDB) delivers educational programs and research to teach, challenge and inspire leaders who work with and within the defense enterprise to achieve next-level results for their organization. IDB features curriculum in Logistics, Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management, Complex Industrial Leadership, Strategic Studies, Global Business and Defense Studies, Continuous Process Improvement, and Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction. Visit www.IDB.org or contact us on our website for more information.