Discover the Key Talent Factors for Fostering Innovation
Ninety-four percent of companies want to achieve substantial and rapid impact through digital transformation and 60% plan to increase their digital transformation efforts in 2023, according to a recent survey from Boston Consulting Group.
However, that same study also found that companies struggle to deliver bottom-line results through digital transformation — and talent is one of their top challenges in establishing and executing a successful digital transformation strategy.
This lines up with what I’ve seen in my work helping businesses assess and train their employees to be innovative. Many leaders seem to think of innovation as an innate ability you’re born with rather than something that can be taught. They also tend to think that the only innovations worth pursuing are massive changes to products and business models.
Both of these ideas are serious misconceptions, and they’re holding organizations back. Really, innovations can come from anywhere within the enterprise, and anyone can learn to be better at it. In particular, organizations need to emphasize these three factors.
1. Innovation Skills
It might sound circular to say that innovation skills help people to be more innovative, but most people have a poor understanding of what innovation skills really are. People often mistakenly think of “innovation” as a synonym for “invention.” But coming up with new ideas (inventions) is only a part of innovation. The leadership skills that allow people to work with others to create value from these new ideas are just as important. Consider the lightbulb: A British inventor named Joseph Swan patented his design 10 years before Thomas Edison, but Edison and his team get the credit for actually getting lightbulbs into people’s houses (which is, of course, where the true value lies).
Consider one important aspect of leadership: the skill of advocacy. It often gets overlooked by technical people in the organization. But how can someone expect to have their brilliant idea become a reality without understanding how to explain it to others in a way they value? To many technical workers, advocacy sounds like a form of marketing, and marketing feels like a form of lying, so they don’t engage in it. But when organizations train their employees on the importance of advocacy — and other leadership skills that are key to innovation, such as flexibility, integrity, vision creation and holistic thinking — they can position their workforce to drive innovation everywhere.
Related Article: Innovation Can Be Taught. And Measured
If people believe they’ll be successful, they’re more likely to actually succeed. We know this from research, but if you don’t have the time to brush up, here’s an intuitive way to think about it: Every feel-good sports movie you’ve ever seen is about self-efficacy. In "The Bad News Bears," a motley group of kids goes up against teams filled with stronger, faster, more talented and more experienced players. Through hard work (and the magic of movie montages), the underdogs gain the skills they need to go toe-to-toe with their proverbial goliaths. But it’s not until they learn to believe in themselves — and in each other — that they’re able to come out victorious in the end.
It isn't just a Hollywood phenomenon. The ad hoc group of amateurs on the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team needed to be able to skate and shoot to beat the professionals on the four-time defending gold medalist Soviet team. But to win, they also needed self-efficacy. U.S. coach Herb Brooks had a degree in psychology and used it to create a team that believed they could outplay the Soviets. Just before the game, he told his team: “You were meant to be here. The moment is yours.”
Addressing Employee Needs and Wants with a Digital Workplace
The workplace is getting more and more digital – both in how we work and where we work
Maintaining a Human-Centered Approach During Digital Transformation
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The Evolution of Employee Recognition
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What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
Having a belief that you’ll be successful increases your ability to succeed. This is just as true in innovation as it is in ice hockey.
Related Article: What 2020 Taught Us About Being an Effective Leader
3. Psychological Safety
Psychological safety doesn’t mean that the boss hugs employees every time they make a mistake. Rather, it refers to a shared belief in the importance of asking questions, challenging results, seeking feedback and iterating over time. No one can innovate in a corporate culture where leadership worships the status quo and where the rank and file are penalized for pointing out alternate paths forward.
In a culture with the psychological safety needed for innovation, people are expected to iterate to discover the solution over time, knowing they’ll probably not arrive at the right answer on their first few attempts. In a culture without psychological safety, leaders don’t expect to be challenged. If you hear a manager say something like, “Just do it, it’s your job,” it’s a bad sign.
We often see psychological safety get destroyed during mergers and acquisitions. Company A buys the more innovative Company B, but the leaders at Company A focus intensely on efficiency. Managers from Company A make sure they’re able to hit the checklist metrics that will net them their annual bonus checks and kill innovation in the process.
When businesses can get people from up and down the company hierarchy and across various departments to develop the skills and mindsets that power innovation, it shifts the direction of the organization — and their ability to digitally transform — incredibly quickly. It’s not magic. It’s about deploying a simple, rigorous approach to thinking. And that’s something that can be learned and improved upon by anyone.
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About the Author
Blade Kotelly is an innovation and user-experience expert & Senior Lecturer at MIT on Design-Thinking and Innovation. He also provides consulting services in Design-Thinking and helps top brands to innovate radically on their product and services, and teaches corporate teams how to create solutions that customers love.