One way that a company can become more innovative is to pay close attention to its talent management and to capitalize on its existing employees’ ability to innovate. Academics and experts alike endorse the view that individual innovation helps attain organizational success; and employees can help improve business performance through their ability to generate new ideas. However, in order for employees to focus on innovative behaviour, your company’s senior management team and/or role leaders will need to enable and enhance such behaviour – essentially, leaders in either a large organization or start-up have a powerful source of influence on their employees’ work behaviours.
An employees’ innovative behaviour is highly dependent on their interaction with other creative minds within the workplace.
Who are these innovative and influential leaders that empower their employees’ to innovate within the workplace? A real-life example would be Andy Wong, manager of the Optical Systems (OS) business unit for 3M Innovation during the 1990s. Faced with two previous market failures, Andy needed to figure out how he should proceed with the Authorization for Expenditure presented to him by his management team working on a new computer privacy screen. Andy’s characteristics were similar to that of an influential leader. In order to innovate, Andy recruited and retained the best possible candidates, he developed and motivated his team and helped build the OS unit’s functional capabilities and commitment to the project at hand. He also created and pursued internal growth opportunities; and finally, he was responsible for painting a clear picture as to what the OS unit was building.
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Middle managers tend to have their fingers on the pulse of a company’s operations – so they are able to conceive and propose new business ideas that senior management may not have originally thought of. Similar to Andy Wong, middle managers are not necessarily extraordinary employees; however, they do share numerous characteristics, which include: comfortable with change; clarity of direction; thoroughness; participative management style; persuasiveness and persistence.
When hiring middle management, your company should look for candidates that best match these characteristics and who are enterprising, innovative and entrepreneurial in spirit. However, managers with such skills need a work environment where the organizational culture fosters teamwork and collaboration, and encourages employees to do what needs to be done. In addition, it’s imperative that employees are able to generate new competencies to renew the company’s competitive advantages because no competitive advantage is likely to stay in place forever.
Companies tend to mismanage their innovation talent, and do not provide meaningful career growth opportunities for these professionals. Your company must initiate new executive responsibilities in the form of innovative managers. Innovative managers are responsible for converting the common research and development framework to one of business-building – a consistent and simple management process that captures the life cycle of new business ideas from concept to market entry to launch. These managers as well as senior executives need be on the same terms – while your company should be an ambidextrous organization. In order to prepare for innovative new products that will help define the future of your company, both levels of management need to constantly look backward and attend to the products/processes of the past, but also gaze forward. This may be a difficult challenge for most managers, as it requires a mental balancing act between exploring new business ideas, while continuing to produce and market existing products.
What type of employee do you want on your team?