Why innovation success starts with having the right people

This article was originally published by Inside HR

By Zoe Aitken

December 21, 2020

Innovation outcomes are unpredictable, and the process of innovation comes with a healthy dose of ambiguity. For this reason, the best innovators are flexible. They are willing to change paths, course correct and explore different solutions, writes Zoe Aitken

Vincent Van Gogh once famously said that “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” That is, it’s the small steps, carried out over time, that collectively build up to achieve greatness.

The same can be said when it comes to innovation. Long-term innovation success is not determined by random sparks of creative genius. Rather, it comes from the collective behaviours exhibited by the people in the organisation, day in, day out. Ultimately, innovation success, starts with having the right people, embodying the right behaviours consistently over time.

So, what are these behaviours and how can you foster them in your team? Below are four behaviours that you should look for, support and build in your people to ensure that innovation thrives in your organisation.

Those with a learning orientation see failure as an opportunity to build their knowledge and understanding. Therefore, they are likely to explore more disruptive solutions and tend to be more resilient in the face of failure.

Curiosity
Contrary to popular belief, innovation doesn’t start with an idea, it starts with a problem. A customer problem to be exact. And finding the right customer problems for innovation requires two things: firstly, customer closeness and secondly, curiosity.

The best innovators stay close to their customers and have a very good understanding of what’s most important to them. They observe their customers, work hard to build empathy and have frequent customer conversations. They are inquisitive and remain curious about why customers behave in certain ways and think about how they can better serve them.

To foster these behaviours in your team, the best place to start is by getting close to your customers. Customer closeness naturally breeds curiosity, as it encourages the team to think about what’s most important to them and importantly, why. So, make it a habit for you and the team to regularly get out and speak with your customers.

Collaborators
Science has repeatedly shown that diversity promotes creativity. Diversity of people, backgrounds, experiences and skills all contribute to more creative solutions. Therefore, great innovators are also great collaborators. They are well networked; constantly seeking input, thoughts and ideas from others, both inside and outside of the organisation.

Most importantly, managers need to role model these behaviours, in order to encourage them in the team. Make sure that you are connecting and collaborating with people from other areas of the business as well as externally. Try to create forums and meetings which encourage cross-functional collaboration and help to build your team’s network. And importantly, don’t attempt to solve important business and innovation challenges from behind your desk.

Flexibility
Innovation outcomes are unpredictable, and the process of innovation comes with a healthy dose of ambiguity. For this reason, the best innovators are flexible. They are willing to change paths, course correct and explore different solutions.

To foster flexibility in your team, make sure that you are rewarding the right outcomes. In particular, make sure that your goals and performance metrics are not attached to particular solutions. Instead, they should encourage exploration and experimentation of lots of different solutions.

Contrary to popular belief, innovation doesn’t start with an idea, it starts with a problem. A customer problem to be exact. And finding the right customer problems for innovation requires two things: firstly, customer closeness and secondly, curiosity.

Learning oriented
Given the unpredictability of innovation, those with a learning orientation are typically better innovators. This is because the path to innovation success can be bumpy and will likely include some failures along the way. Those with a learning orientation see failure as an opportunity to build their knowledge and understanding. Therefore, they are likely to explore more disruptive solutions and tend to be more resilient in the face of failure.

One way to encourage a learning mindset in your team, is to send them clear signals that it’s OK to fail. It’s important to re-frame failure as a learning opportunity, rather than as a reflection of poor performance.

Ultimately, innovation success requires deliberate efforts to nurture the right behaviours in your team. Only when your team master these behaviours and they become habitual will innovation start to have a meaningful impact on the business.