The global pandemic has shifted the focus for businesses across the world to preserving resources and energy to stay afloat, so teams tend to press pause on innovation.
The pandemic has increased innovation as research and development efforts continue across industries to find ways to survive and thrive. The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index 2020 research, a comprehensive reports focused on 'Who will finance innovation?' finds that the pandemic could spark further innovation within industries and in the way teams and individuals structure their work.
I’ve seen signs of 2020’s innovation renaissance even in planning my kids’ birthday parties. Event and party planners have gone digital, giving me an entire industry to help coordinate a virtual children’s birthday party with energy, excitement and engagement. Gallup research suggests hundreds of innovations have emerged globally as organizations have reevaluated their business models and hunted down gaps in service they can use to innovate. Healthcare, education and technology are among the industries that have pivoted on a dime.
Innovation hinges on priorities and structures around it, and the remote work landscape has altered both. Managers under extraordinary stress have seen their own engagement and well-being suffer, and their team members are barreling toward burnout alongside them. None of that is conducive to innovation. Hence, it is critical that leaders actively build environment to foster innovation. What might help?
1. Understand Your Team's Capacity To Innovate
A deciding factor in innovation success is whether your team has the mental capacity to think about new ideas, embrace new approaches to work, and execute on new kinds of innovation. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I knew we needed to connect and communicate more frequently as a team as most of us were unprepared to work from home effectively. Lack of dedicated workspaces, routines, limited human contact with peers can negatively impact concentration, motivation, and inspiration to work — making innovation almost impossible.
Little daily changes in ways of working can help. For e.g: I started daily stand-up calls to talk with my team . We’d speak at a fixed time for 30 minutes each day, reserving the first 5 minutes to talk about issues related to COVID-19. The next 5 minutes were earmarked for ranting and talking about anything that is on your mind. Once done, we’d move on to talk about more constructive and positive conversations unrelated to work; team members could talk about family, friends, hobbies, or other light topics within a trusted professional network. I felt it was important to connect and converse as this is what forms and strengthens human connections and lays a solid foundation of trust. These kind of initiatives definitely helps in creating an innovation-enabling environment. Having the space and freedom to share their most creative ideas and thoughts is critical, which only 1 in 5 workers get a chance to do, according to Gallup research. Opening the door to innovation means creating a space for employee input and helping teams fulfill their basic needs first.
2. Let Goals Guide Processes
The nature of innovation and leaders’ approaches to it are both changing. This shift had been led by two broad drivers: First, the end customer’s consumption patterns and priorities have changed with the new situations and challenges caused by COVID-19, so useful innovation requires attuning to these evolutions is key. Second, teams are smoothing out their innovation processes by prioritizing the right problems which can deliver business impact here and now.
Innovation must revolve around goals, but ideation can be a nebulous concept. As a result, innovation requires well-defined processes that let you tap into ideas from across the team for an end goal. Understand your “why” behind devising a new product, service, or process. Communicate that vision to all key stakeholders who are part of your innovation process and ensure complete understanding and alignment before you sketch out a plan. That plan should include market research to qualify the project, a business case to justify any expenses, a system for building and developing the innovation and a monetization strategy that involves marketing and branding, pricing and sales, and customer support. Define how your team will measure success by setting goals for each stage. Then, as you work, you can continuously monitor your progress against those measurements and adjust course when necessary.
3. Intervene Sparingly
Once your team has established its innovation goals and processes and set up a system for regular check-ins, resist the urge to get too heavily involved. Micromanagement has been shown to stifle creativity and innovation; instill fear and paralysis; squelch employee opinions; and detract from the focus on the customer. In short, it can kill innovation. The solution is creating a culture of trust by intervening only occasionally to ensure that the project is on track.
Leaders are free to use tools to monitor their team members’ screen time and online work activity, but it’s better to focus on employees’ mental well-being to ensure they’re equipped for sustained success. Suggest daily routines for meals, bedtime, and screen time; creative time to read, draw, dance, walk, sing ; and physical exercise to reduce stress. A foundation of healthy habits will keep employees engaged and creative while minimizing the need for intervention. Personally, if I find that a project has entered the “red zone” (i.e., it’s undergoing delays or we have quality issues), I create a plan to address the current issues with the team and hold daily stand-up meetings of 15 to 30 minutes with them to make sure we stay on track and everyone is equipped to meet expectations. The key is to ensure your team feels supported; otherwise, their well-being and engagement — and the team’s innovation — will suffer.
What approaches do you think help in fostering innovation? Leave a comment below.