June 27, 2017

How leaders can embrace innovation

In New Zealand businesses, innovation is rated highly by 81 per cent of CEOs. Surprisingly, however, only 7 per cent rate their organisations as excellent when asked to examine their own performance in this area, according to a report by Previously Unavailable. 

Innovation on a level that generates new customer offerings and leads market growth has stalled in New Zealand. Fewer innovative products are making it to market, and at a time when higher customer expectations are higher than ever before, businesses are struggling to nail the kind of cutting-edge developments they aspire to.

To bring reality in line with their goals, leaders need to do two key things. 

Leaders should be prepared to disagree with others at the table.

1. Take risks

Leadership and innovation are inherently connected by risk. 

"The most innovative companies do not have the best ideas, they have the tenacity and dedication to get ideas out there," says James Hurman, one of the authors behind the Previously Unavailable report. Part of that dedication involves breaking away from the tendency to seek broad-based consensus as in larger organisations, this culture can delay or deaden projects. 

For leaders to successfully head up innovation efforts, they need to override the widespread dependency on consensus which is common in the corporate space. 

Innovative progress is spurred on by risk, so leaders should be prepared to disagree with others at the table. Rod Drury, entrepreneur and CEO of Xero explains that leaders should "Give the opportunity for consensus, but don't let it slow the business down."

Innovation takes a certain level of risk and the boldness to contradict consensus. Innovation takes a certain level of risk and the boldness to contradict consensus.

2.  Create a sense of urgency

A lack of ideas isn't the problem. The stumbling block many leaders face is prioritisation. 

Speed, or the lack thereof, trips up innovation and makes it hard to get off the ground. A lack of priority means transformative ideas are being pushed down the list in favour of day-to-day operations. An atmosphere of crisis can drive new developments to the top of the list again and help leaders push through their ideas.

To embrace innovation, leaders need to create a sense of urgency by setting ambitious deadlines and taking advantage of opportunities that crop up from gaps in the market or customer need.

Although innovation in business in New Zealand may be facing a few roadblocks, such as a consensus-based culture and slow pace, they are nothing leaders can't circumnavigate and the right approach will see home grown businesses bring their valuable ideas to fruition.