We’re all familiar with the concept of getting in the way of our own success. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many companies struggle with this same impediment when it comes to innovation performance. Yes, your organization has great ideas, but are your internal structure, culture and priorities prohibiting innovation from ever seeing the light of day? Even if those ideas make it through these challenges, can your resulting strategy for managing innovation align with your execution to produce the results your business requires?
In my experience, there are five habits that leaders of innovative companies consistently incorporate:
Let history inform, not dictate.
I cringe when I hear the phrase, “But that’s how we’ve always done it.” Innovation is forward-thinking. It’s laser-focused on how to break out of the status quo. Certainly, if you’ve tried something and failed, you want to learn from that experience and figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes.
That’s a given.
But you also have to have a critical eye in the midst of success. Consider the difference between Apple Newton and the iPhone. Sometimes needed modifications aren’t evident until the market lets you know about them. So instead of chasing them, it’s necessary to listen to feedback from the most important stakeholders and be diligent in keeping tabs on trends in their infancy stages to stay ahead of the curve.
Create transparent lines of communication.
When teams fail, it's often because communication is siloed. Sometimes it’s the infrastructure that makes information exchange difficult, if not impossible, outside of departments. Other times, teams simply develop tunnel vision while meeting internal benchmarks and deadlines. Regardless of why, innovation performance relies on communicative transparency, which incorporates processes that allow teams not only to talk to one another but to track each other’s progress, reach out for advice and ensure things are moving along as planned. Perhaps more importantly, clear lines of communication will keep everyone on the same page when challenges arise and offer the opportunity to recalibrate expectations and determine a new timeline.
Nurture an insight-friendly culture for everyone.
In many organizations, someone has a great idea but doesn't know how, when or where to share it. The best ideas often come from the most unlikely sources, so it’s essential to promote an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up — innovation depends on people and communication. Are you celebrating people who bring ideas forward, even if they fail? Are you recognizing key team members who recommended successful investment decisions? If the answers are no, it’s time to assess why and make the necessary cultural changes that remove the stigma of offering a fresh, unconventional angle. Remember, you hired your employees for a reason.
Put systems in place that allow you to implement, measure and learn.
It's not unheard of for companies to only implement about half of their strategic plans. This happens often because the plans are not adopted by the organization or the plans fail to bring about the desired results in the given timeframe. One reason for these failures is a lack of connection between processes/systems and objectives/execution in functional areas.
So it is critically important to support innovation through technological connections that simplify collaboration and bring teams together instead of functioning as unconnected units. Even further, you should be in a position to analyze progress and determine with a certain degree of accuracy what’s possible and what isn’t.
Deploy processes that encourage managing innovation and new product development.
We tend to think of innovation as the result of a lone inventor with an idea or a frustrated entrepreneur wanting to solve some problem they experienced. Those are nice stories, but new product development is often a team sport with a good process. Research shows (download required) that companies that successfully apply a structured approach to innovation project management typically reduce risk in the business process and increase innovation results over their peers.
Developing leadership habits that promote innovation isn’t easy, but these habits are essential for consistent and positive outcomes. The companies that execute the best ideas prioritize learning, communicating, supporting team members and improving systems and processes. If you’re ready to innovate, the time to start practicing these habits is now.
This article originally appeared in Forbes.
Gain more insights into managing innovation performance by listening to the Innovation+Talks podcast with Sopheon Chief Evangelist Paul Heller.