Innovation Begins (and remains) at the Top

Guest post By John
Sweeney:

Innovation is foundational to business
leadership. We empower individuals across disciplines to evaluate, orchestrate,
strategize, create and hire, but most importantly, we empower others to innovate.
Many leaders may consider empowerment a handoff – a simple process of
delegating work. For the most process-oriented tasks, that assumption may be
true. But for innovation, responsibility begins and remains at the highest
levels of leadership.

Empowering innovation begins with our
everyday behavior, outlook, commitment and openness to new thinking. Just as
leaders deliver big picture messages and strategy, we also set the tone for how
organizations innovate. However, we forget about everyday behavior, because it
is so basic that even the big thinkers—the super smart innovation architects—often
assume that everyday behavior will automatically change once a great system is
in place.

The maxim “everything looks like a nail
to a hammer” is an excellent reminder that every successful innovation effort
relies on the people—and all their fears, emotions, and humanness—who must fuel
it.

Innovation is fundamentally about people;
their assumptions, subconscious thought patterns, daily actions and habits. Taken
together with all the other trappings of business management — procedures,
rewards and penalties, social dynamics, unspoken rules and, of course, stress—it’s
easy to see how innovation yields a wonderfully messy, organic and complex
environment. Above all, behavior drives results, and if leaders fail to address
daily behavior, even the greatest strategies and plans to drive innovation are
doomed to fail.

A managerial culture that strives for efficiency, leanness,
speed and quality above all else is often in conflict with a culture of innovation,
which must make room for experimentation, learning from mistakes and unexpected
connections through exploration.

Here
are six tips that leaders can implement to help create and foster a business
environment that not only welcomes, but also thrives on innovation:

1. Your behavior
matters.

As
the leader of a company your behavior is amplified and seen as the true north
to how things are done in the company. Your words do not matter, if you behave
contrary to them!

2. Your words do matter
when they are aligned with your actions.

Language
is a powerful tool to rally and unify people – especially around innovation.
Choose sticky language, use it, help people make it their own to align and
inspire people to embrace an innovative mindset and innovation behaviors.

3. Strive to decrease
status.

Be
human, real and authentic to encourage participation in innovation activities
and initiatives.

4. Show up!

Be
present and supportive for all innovation related events and initiatives. Being
engaged sends the message that innovation is important and worthwhile of your time, which means it is important
and worthwhile for the people who you lead.

5. Be bold in your
behavioral declaration.

Create
a behavioral manifesto or credo. Publicly state that you will personally strive
to uphold the behaviors you have stated in the credo.

6. Frequently ask
others to evaluate, metric and assess your behavior based on your declaration.

Invite
constructive criticism to demonstrate your desire for continuous improvement and
a willingness to change – two key elements of innovation.

We
all know that how we function in a team, communicate and collaborate with
others is the key to successful innovation, and there’s no better place to
start than at the top. An innovative mindset reevaluates the nature of
innovation and shows how a change in perspective can lead to more dynamic,
successful endeavors.

John Sweeney is the co-owner and executive producer of the
Brave New Workshop, America’s oldest satirical comedy theatre. He uses his 20+
years of improvisational performance, speaking and training to influence human
behavior and to create simple but groundbreaking tools that have ignited
cultures of innovative behavior within such companies as Microsoft, PWC,
General Mills and UnitedHealthGroup. His new book (with Elena Imaretska) – The
Innovative Mindset: 5 Behaviors for Accelerating Breakthroughs
– is available now from Wiley. Visit
www.wiley.com to find a bookseller near you.