Future Focused Leaders: The Role of Leadership in Innovation Management

by Henra Mayer

Global crises and Black Swan events are not catalysts for leaders to think about the future. Leaders think about renewal all of the time, how to reposition products and services, and how to differentiate and create new demand or markets. Planning for the future is inherently something that is expected of leaders, as they are ultimately responsible for leading the organisation towards continuous growth and prosperity.

The importance of innovation in making growth happen is not a new concept either. Successful innovation lead to growth and sustainability. The innovative leader understands that organisations can benefit from an “innovation premium”. (An innovation premium, at a very high level, is viewed to be reflective of investor confidence as boosted by an organisation’s inherent innovation capability.)

Any leader worth its salt understands that their everyday actions are one of the most powerful signals to their teams and organisations that innovation truly matters, and they will want to understand how to make this happen successfully.

A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute, states that almost half the jobs people currently perform have the potential to be automated by currently existing technology. This poses the question many are pondering at the moment, what type of work will be left for humans to do?

According to a Forbes article by Robert Tucker, the answer is innovation. In particular developing the skills, mindsets and tools to help leaders get there. According to Tucker, leaders need to think about, and take responsibility for various innovation related actions. Thy need to:[1]

  1. Constantly challenge assumptions, as nothing new happens if we continue to do it the way we always have
  2. Develop empathy for the end customer, do we understand the needs of the end customer properly, and do leaders (and the people in the organisation) understand the business they are in on a deeper level
  3. Proactively think ahead of the curve, things happen fast if we are not aware of them. How do you stay at the edge of your industry? Have you ever tried to walk around in the dark without a flashlight? Every organisation needs its own version of a flashlight to successfully navigate constant change
  4. Continuously fortify the idea factory, shortage of ideas are never really the problem, it is about getting from “a-ha to done” in a consistent manner.
  5. Build buy-in, in a world where going viral happens frequently, one tends to forget that good ideas often needs help with creating buy-in to get over the finish line. Persuasion is an essential, and developable skill.

“Future focused leaders” are also listed as one of eight key innovation management principles, or foundations of the innovation management system, according to the series of Innovation Management standards recently published by ISO (ISO 56002:2019/adopted in South Africa as SANS 56002, Innovation management – Innovation management system – Guidance).

The ISO 56002:2019/SANS 56002:2019 standard describes innovation management from a systems perspective “as organisations can innovate more effectively and efficiently if all necessary activities and other interrelated or interacting elements are viewed from a systems perspective. It is believed that the innovation management system guides the organisation to determine its innovation vision, strategy, policy, and objectives, and that it establishes the support and processes needed to achieve the intended outcomes”.

From an innovation leadership perspective it addresses the imperatives of Leadership and Commitment as well as Innovation Policy and provides concrete guidelines on how to enable innovation in the organisation.

Leadership and Commitment

Leadership and commitment is an important imperative with respect to innovation capability building. It focuses on value realisation by giving attention to things like, amongst others:

  • accountability, ensuring that the organisation’s vision and strategy for innovation are established, as well as addressing culture and supporting activities and the necessary structures that will support it.

Innovation Policy

Establishing innovation policy is a clear leadership responsibility and the guidance provided by ISO 56002:2019/SANS 56002:2019 in this regard states that top management (1) establish, (2) implement and (3) maintain innovation policy, ensuring that (amongst other things):

  • innovation activities are committed, that activities are appropriate and aligned, that a relevant innovation framework is considering the eight innovation management principles mentioned in the guidance document and that the innovation management system is continually reviewed, and improved upon.

Being an innovative leader is one thing, planning adequately to ensure that innovation is successful in your organisation is an important responsibility that requires skill, dedication and commitment but most of all, consistent, innovative leadership.

Innocentrix offers online training related to innovation management, the ISO/SANS 56000 series of innovation management standards, and hosts various workshops, innovation community events and trend discussions were we share thoughts and relevant templates to get you started. All designed to help you optimally manage innovation in your organisation.

Get in touch here if you need more information or if you are interested in on-line innovation management training, to become part of the community or to attend a future workshop.

[1] Based on the article: Six Innovation Leaderships Skills everybody needs to master –   https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertbtucker/2017/02/09/six-innovation-leadership-skills-everybody-needs-to-master104ef35d46