Diversity & Management – Part III

or a lot of obvious reasons, innovation has become the new catchword in business. Recent research by McKinsey reveals that there is a wide gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. 70% of senior executives say that innovation will be among the top three drivers of growth in the next three to five years. In addition, 94% say that people and culture are the most important drivers of innovation.

This poses a major challenge for organizations. My own experience indicates that culture is relatively intractable and people are unpredictable. So what can leaders do to overcome this obvious dilemma. There are no best practice solutions to cultivate innovation. My experience suggests that a focus on people management fundamentals may be the key. In Managing Differently, I try to make the argument that it is managers, more than leaders, that produce the winning outcomes for business.

Here are three people management ideas that may be useful in the quest for innovation.

    1. Along with key strategies like diversity management, innovation should be added to the strategic management agenda. This means that innovation should not only be encouraged, but managed, tracked, and measured as a core component of the company’s growth aspirations.
    2. Managers must learn to make better use of the existing talent for innovation. The seven principles of Managing Differently can be a good start for helping managers get the best from all their employees all the time.

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  • Leaders must take steps to foster a culture of innovation based on trust among employees. For this to happen, employees must know that their ideas are valued, and that it is safe to express those ideas.

The best predictor of innovative performance is supportive leadership. The top motivators of innovation behavior is strong leaders who encourage and protect innovators along with great managers who actively manage it. Rewarding nothing but short-term performance and maintaining a fear of failure inhibits a culture of innovation.

Let’s not assume that we all understand what I mean by innovation. My definition of innovation is a creative idea for a new product or service,or process that has been converted into a revenue producing activity. It is not enough to have a creative idea. Innovation requires that the company get some significant benefit from that idea. That only happens when the idea is converted into a revenue stream.

Here are three ideas that can advance innovation.

  1. Make sure all senior leaders consider innovation a top priority. For this to happen, all members of the top team must agree that promoting innovation is critical to corporate success. They must then reflect on how their own behavior reinforces our inhibits innovation. This is the same principle that we espouse for installing diversity management as a strategy.
  2. Create innovation coaches. Identify those managers who are already acting as brokers to improve innovation Pull them aside and give them opportunities to develop their coaching and facilitation skills so that they can build the capabilities of other people who have a knack for innovation.
  3. Allow managed experimentation and quick success. This approach is typically the best way to start any change effort in large organizations. Quick success has been called “plucking the low hanging fruit”, and is a way to generate excitement about the possibility that innovation can actually work.

Innovation is a big idea with big potential. Like all big ideas. it takes work to make it happen. Having the aspiration means little until the decision is made that execution is critical. Remember, innovation lies at the intersection of creativity and deliberate diversity. Are you ready to take that step?

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