Although periods of flux can be uncomfortable for entrepreneurs and business owners, innovative leadership is a necessity. Without it, companies become archaic as the world progresses around them. Yet, changing too quickly can affect employee retention, cause drops in profit, and even result in business failure.
With this in mind, innovation can feel like a tremendous risk, which contributes to a lack of business owners practicing this leadership style. For example, studies by Brene Brown show, “Not enough people are taking smart risks or sharing bold ideas to meet changing demands.”
Nevertheless, humanity craves brave leaders. But, how do entrepreneurs successfully pull off innovation without losing it all? Below, learn how to create a proactive, well-formulated plan that guides companies through periods of growth and change.
Step 1: Revisit Your Purpose
Awareness is the first key to innovative, transformational leadership. With each step forward, a business leader’s purpose and vision should strengthen. Do the proposed changes and desired areas of growth fall in line with the mission and vision statements that you set as a company? Your plans for innovation need to always align with your mission and vision statements, or you will end up “chasing rabbits,” and losing your core as a company.
Step 2: Discovery and Brainstorm
First schedule a discovery and brainstorming session with your key leaders. This provides perspective from a wide variety of angles, thus helping a business owner make more informed decisions.
At its core, innovation leadership is creative problem-solving. Oftentimes, in efforts to expand profits or solve a staffing issue, leaders start haphazardly implementing change. But best-selling author and leadership expert John C. Maxwell writes, “Just because a change could be made doesn’t mean it should be made.”
Sometimes an organization lacks the people, resources, or energy to successfully implement change. Leaders have to be sensitive to the rhythm of the organization in order to understand when the time is ripe to shift gears . . . Too much at once can dishearten and overwhelm a team.”
Make calculated, well-formulated decisions concerning company change. While fast-paced business has its benefits, when implementing company-wide changes or introducing new initiatives, steady wins the race.
- What’s working (aka what’s NOT changing)
Before you even start to plan new initiatives, it’s important to sit down with your leadership board and define what’s working, so you don’t lose the foundation of your business in the process of innovating.
- What’s broken
Define what’s not working and what needs to change to make way for better synergy and growth. For example, is there a system that’s not currently scalable that’s keeping you from growing your customer base?
- What’s missing
Think of this as connecting the dots. Identify the missed opportunities in your area of expertise. This is where you talk about potential innovation. What stands in the way of hitting your goals? What changes would have to take place within the organization to make this possible?
Step 3: Create Buy-In
One of the main goals of innovative leadership is building trust and belief among employees and customers as the company grows.
In an interview on how to create change within a company, Dr. John Kotter, author of Buy In, explains: “Buy-in is critical to making any large organizational change happen . . . Our research has shown that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail, and one reason for this is executives simply don’t get enough buy-in, from enough people, for their initiatives and ideas.”
Your team is your most valuable resource so make sure you give them a voice. As the eyes and ears on the ground, your key players offer invaluable insight on processes, potential pitfalls, and realistic timelines. This is why it is important for business leaders to create “buy-in” with key players on the team. People share the causes they believe in. Your goal is to get your team fired up about the change, and feel like they have a part in the implementation strategy.
Leaders need to help their teams understand how their work contributes to the larger picture. In addition, business owners should also explain the “why,” “what,” “how,” “who” and “when” of new initiatives. It’s not enough to say change is needed.
Step 4: Craft the Strategy
So often we know where we want to go, but don’t know the exact steps to take to get us there. This is where reverse engineering can be helpful. Ask yourself and your team, what has to be true in order to achieve the desired outcome? If you are developing a new product or expanding a new team, are there new hires or resources needed? Thinking backward from point B to point A helps determine the necessary steps for goal completion.
Identifying Pitfalls and Plan B’s
Innovative leadership requires identifying the potential effect and scenarios the change could create. Those with transformational leadership qualities want to innovate, inspire and motivate others, but this isn’t an easy process. In fact, it can be a quite risky one. Identifying potential pitfalls in the plan can help ensure your decisions aren’t too hasty or ineffective. Additionally, keep the plan of implementation flexible. This means creating backup strategies and courses of action for each phase of the change.
For example, identify things that could go wrong financially, create confusion or lost opportunity. What could potentially create lower team morale and/or wasted resources?
One Goal, One Action
Start developing an action plan. Leaders tend to want to get everything done at once. But the human brain can only focus fully on one task at a time. When creating a roadmap for your team, focus instead on one goal, one action. This creates a deep team focus and synergy across your team that helps rapidly achieve your goals.
Step 5: Encourage and Monitor Change
Even the most well-laid out strategies fall short without direct follow-up, guidance and encouragement. As stated above, change cannot happen through one person. One person practicing innovative leadership can inspire, support and motivate a group, but true transformation requires deployment throughout a community of people.
- Helping team members understand the “why” behind new initiatives.
- Validating and addressing fears or emotions around changes.
- Providing any necessary new training or education.
- Explaining specific increments and mile markers.
- Checking-in along the way.
- Asking for feedback on how they can better serve.
Intentional communication throughout this process will help develop sustainable, achievable growth.
Communicate and Provide a Plan for Team Changes
Change initiatives also fail, according to 48 percent of the respondents, because companies lack the skills to ensure that change can be sustained over time.Strategybusiness.com
While leaders should hold people accountable for new measures taken, it’s important to understand that change is a process. Explain why and how the new goals fulfill a larger purpose and the plan for steady change over time. Find out what training and new skills will be required and make sure to communicate this with your team.
Company changes affect team members on a personal level. Show empathy and patience while people make the transition. Before assigning any new duties, have transparent conversations about new responsibilities. Gauge how people are feeling and ask how to better support them during this time of change. This might mean more one-on-one mentorship or investment in new training tools. Furthermore, set people up for as much success as possible by providing clear, structured responsibilities and measures of performance.
Beware Of Change Fatigue
Without constantly looking at the future and gaining perspective, entrepreneurs play a reactionary game. When those practicing innovative leadership force change, it often turns out hasty and weakly implemented. This leads to change fatigue. A study from the Katzenbach Center found 65 percent of surveyed people felt they experienced this phenomenon caused by initiatives that are underdeveloped, lack preparation, and introduced too quickly.”
Creating change without purpose negatively affects the organization and those who serve it. “The costs are high when change efforts go wrong—not only financially but in confusion, lost opportunity, wasted resources, and diminished morale. When employees who have endured real upheaval and put in significant extra hours for an initiative that was announced with great fanfare see it simply fizzle out, cynicism sets in,” warns strategy consultant DeAnne Aguirre and writer Micah Alpern for Strategy&Business.
Identify Key Players’ Strengths
When introducing the desire for change to different key players, understand that responses will vary. During times of flux, people have various reactions to new information. Some may show immediate excitement, while others might want more information before deciding how they feel.
After giving everyone time to individually process their emotions, check back in to see what role everyone would feel comfortable playing as the team implements these initiatives. In essence, business owners should learn how to leverage differences as strengths. Skeptics will be better suited for critical thinking and finding holes in the plan, while those who show extreme positivity can help garner support among other employees.
Give Managers Actionable Objectives
Another issue with successful innovative leadership is the actual lack of management, particularly in reference to front-line managers. Research conducted by Gallup found that “more than 70% of change initiatives fail” because front-line managers aren’t given a plan of the action for achieving the company’s desired business outcomes.” This is why creating buy-in and involving company leaders throughout the organization must start from planning stages, all the way to implementation and success monitoring.
Develop Measurable KPIs
Real change doesn’t happen overnight. Setting different checkpoints and goals for success along the way motivates teams to keep pushing forward toward larger collective goals. Start by understanding the end goal and what each marker of success looks like. Every time the company completes a phase or milestone, celebrate the individuals on the team who made it possible. Incentivizing, recognizing and appreciating team members helps keep them feeling challenged, yet rewarded.
Think Ahead and Make Sustainable Changes
As the world continues transforming at a rapid pace, adaptation strategy is something every leader and their team should regularly discuss. In fact, change is so constant for most companies that Gartner reports “The typical organization today has undertaken five major firmwide changes in the past three years—and nearly 75% expect to multiply the types of major change initiatives they will undertake in the next three years.” Transformational leadership guides collective groups of people toward fulfilling the purpose of the company while providing instructions on how to innovate and modernize along the way.