How can senior leaders support innovation in organisational teams and create a broader sustainable climate for innovation?
Based on our experience over the last 10 years in working with leaders who have improved their team’s work climate for innovation, we’ve found that climate is often a ‘lead’ indicator of innovation performance.
The teams we’ve worked with have introduced new services and extended existing ones; one saved millions of pounds and won a corporate award; raised their profile within their organisations and their marketplaces. To do this, we employed a climate diagnostic called the Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ).
The first post in the series looked at how leaders connect people to purposeful goals, agree freedom to act within boundaries and build team trust. The second reviewed how teams make the most of limited time for effective idea development, add spontaneity and humour and reduce interpersonal conflict. The third looked at the final 3 SOQ dimensions: improving support for ideas, optimising the debate process and taking measured risks with unknowable outcomes.
A key message we’ve learnt is: manage the team climate and performance results will (usually) follow.
But some teams did not succeed
Their climate didn’t improve and neither did their results. A few teams even saw deterioration in their work climate. Why was this? When we spoke to the team leaders, the most common issue was that they lacked a sufficiently strong relationship with their manager. Because of this, they couldn’t leverage the influence they needed to give their teams protected exploration time and couldn’t galvanise each other around agreed and meaningful innovation goals.
So what can senior leaders do to support their middle and frontline managers?
- Realise that making the case for innovation isn’t enough. This is necessary but not sufficient. Yet we have found that senior leaders sometimes act as if their work is done when the rational case is made. The truth is: it’s just started.
- Leaders influence with or without mindful effort, for better of worse! And they impact on the broader organisational climate. They should reflect on, measure and improve the whole organizational climate for innovation. The SOQ can be used at this level, as well as with individual teams.
- They should look for people with energy, initiative and perseverance. They should then coach, mentor and develop these people and develop mechanisms for easing ideas through to where decisions can be made for further development, testing and wider adoption. Building people capability for innovation is a great mid-term investment, as long as this capability is retained, shared, spread…
- They can assess the suitability of organisational processes and systems for enabling idea development. Organisations like Wazoku host cloud-based platforms that combine process efficiency as well as the diverse and transparent input of people into idea generation and development. This allows for senior leaders to see which ideas are gathering interest.
- Finally, on a more emotional level, they should be aware of how they communicate and what impact this has. When we need novel thinking, outcomes are, by definition, unpredictable. Leaders may send messages that betray their own anxieties. They may also send signs that reveal their own preference for more incremental or more radical change. We have seen senior leaders switch off the motivation of their workforce by sending signals that reveal what they value. And what they don’t. And ‘what’ they don’t value soon becomes reconfigured as ‘who’ they don’t value! Senior leaders should educate themselves about their own innovation preferences (biases) and adjust accordingly
© Bluegreen Learning Ltd