Innovation: Learning From the Best
Which Companies Are Soaring Above The Rest, And Why?
This year’s twenty best companies have been identified¹. What are these organization’s best leadership practices, and what can we learn from them?
One thing is for sure. All great companies put a premium on innovation. And the insight that sparks innovation seems to occur randomly to the average observer. Even the icon we use for innovation is a light bulb. It’s a picture implying that ideas come from sudden flashes of inspiration. Now I’m not denying these “flash” experiences. But today’s companies need a system to develop a steady stream of ideas.
It might surprise you that leadership style and organizational culture can demote or promote innovation. Rather than giving bullet points of how to increase your odds at innovation, what are the actual business practices that support meaningful innovation and drive market leadership? It’s culture creation that drives and supports the flourishing of new ideas.
What are the practices followed by the best companies? According to the Hay Group, any organization can follow their lead and make innovation easier.
With the accelerating pace of change, the best companies were flexible, responsive organizations. The evaluations were based on agility and the ability to make strategic and operational decisions quickly. Context was also important. Employees spent much time discussing customer’s future needs.
A diversity of thinking was essential to broadening perspectives. They engaged the next generation who love to bring their ideas to work. This is in lockstep with our findings in our research on Millennials².
The top companies create room for ideas and look for them throughout their organizations. Cultural, ethnic, and national diversity were highly valued (another value that drives Millennials²). They worked hard to connect people with projects that were personally meaningful to them (a definite Millennial intrinsic value). They also encouraged employees to learn in areas outside their personal expertise.
Collaboration was a high value. It’s the process that brings the raw ideas of innovation together. This is also a high value for Millennials. Their tendency is to participate even if uninvited.
The B.L.U.F. (Bottom Line Up Front)? Leadership is what drives innovation. The organizational structure is important and can help or hinder the process. But leadership is the most essential ingredient in creating a culture of innovation. Structure is the banks of the river directing how the water can flow. But culture is like the current in the river. It moves people and processes in a certain direction. If culture is not intentional, it will happen by default. This is why leadership is important. Leadership creates a culture where innovation is what we do, and not simply a miraculous thing that appears exceptionally – every once in a while.
Innovation requires intentionality. It is a long-term commitment to a disciplined approach. Is your organization creating a climate where innovation is the expected norm?
Only the leaders that, (a) insist employees have a voice in their work, (b) back it up with the provision of resources, then (c), support them in their efforts to succeed, will create cultures that champion innovation.
Below is a summary of the 2011 Best Companies:
94% are prepared to run unprofitable projects to try new things.
100% let all employees behave like leaders, as opposed to 54% of heir peers.
100% manage a pipeline of qualified leadership candidates.
90% let employees bypass the chain of command with an excellent idea.
95% see problems as opportunities.
100% take action when a leader is not collaborating. It’s mandatory!
95% reward leaders based on their ability to build excellent peer relationships.
95% of leaders take time to actively develop others. Only 48% of leaders in peer organizations do this.
95% of leaders at the best companies are culturally savvy and are able to be effective with diverse teams.
The Hay Group’s study on why these companies are the best highlights the importance of engaging this emerging generation—the Millennials. This is what drives them. And it seems that this is also what makes an organization soar above their competitors.
¹The Hay Group; Summary Of The 2011 Best Companies for Leadership Study.