There are three key attributes that innovation leaders know and practice. They are Access, Action, and Authenticity.
When it comes to team engagement, providing access goes far beyond the so-called open-door policy. Having an “open door” means your innovation team members can enter your office when they want to, to ask a question or deliver a report. This is nice, and it’s better than having a closed door, but it means you are passively waiting for them to interact with you.
Winning innovation leaders proactively reach out to engage team members in a way that is relevant to their individual personas, goals, and responsibilities. It means leaving your office and intruding into their space (nicely, of course!) to ask them how they’re doing and—more importantly—what you can do to help them develop the next new idea.
Remember, while your employees work for you, in a very real sense you are their servant. Your job is to help them do theirs in the best and most productive way possible.
It means recognizing and adapting your interaction to fit the persona type of the stakeholder. Every human being is unique. Some are extroverted, others introverted. Some are impulsive, others deliberative. An innovation leader knows how to interact with each type so that a deeper, more lasting connection is made.
We worked with an incredible CEO who was literally one of the smartest and kindest human beings we had ever met. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize how much his team needed him to reach out to them through authentic connections. As a result, his company wasn’t innovating up to its full potential. Once we got this wonderful and inspiring man out of his office and connecting with his staff, employee engagement soared and the company saw real growth.
Remember, you can’t communicate vision, value, and viability if you’re not personally outreaching to the teams you serve. And this does not mean sending tweets. It means putting in real face time. In the old days they called it “management by wandering around,” and today it’s more necessary than ever.
Team engagement is a dynamic and active process. To engage and to connect is to lead. The problem is that most leaders are busy, and the idea of getting up out of the corner office and actively setting up processes of systematically engaging innovation team members is tiresome. In fact, some leaders may consider this to be a waste of time. That is unfortunate, because there is no better way to drive enterprise innovation than to increase the efficiencies and engagement of your team members. Action is the heavy lifting of leadership and it requires that you build processes and routines around the active connection of your team.
Winning innovation leaders transform plans into reality. Too often, CEOs propose impressive innovations that sound good on paper but never become real. They get shelved, or are never funded, or something else—a new shiny object—appears over the horizon.
Sometimes inaction is a matter of analysis paralysis, or just plain old bureaucracy. To combat this, at Amazon.com Jeff Bezos has created a system of what he calls Type 1 and Type 2 decisions.
Type 1 decisions are irreversible turning points that top executives must be involved in.
Type 2 decisions, which are more common, are tactical calls that a business can reverse if it gets wrong. These don’t need the personal involvement of top leaders.
“Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups,” Bezos wrote in 2015. “As organizations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions.” This leads to paralysis and inaction, as decisions are made too slowly.
Nobody likes a phony. Nobody. Unfortunately, many organizations have leaders who are disingenuous and, for the lack of a better term, “fake.” Sadly, these leaders are under the impression that nobody notices their fake innovations, but their subordinates notice, their peers notice, and sometimes even sharp-eyed stock analysts notice.
Offering a fake innovation might be tempting as a short-term strategy to avoid confronting a problem. But in the long run, it’s always a mistake. Sometimes even a legal one.
Life gets a lot better when you’re willing to be self-aware, authentic, and honest. Your team is smart and they want to be respected. You want them to be authentic with you and they expect that you will be authentic to them.
We did some consulting for an organization that hired young enthusiastic college graduates to work in their call center. To attract these young hires, the company built out compensation programs that seemed innovative, but the managers knew full well that the salespeople would never hit the plan targets that allowed them to make real money. But the employees got their revenge. In an act of industrial Darwinism, these angry hires shared their stories on platforms like Glassdoor, doing significant damage to both the leaders and the business—damage that we had to come in and repair.
A process innovation needs to be real and authentic—otherwise the employees will see it as just another gimmick foisted on them by their bosses.
Be real, be authentic, and be a leader!