Innovation and Leadership

Leadership and Innovation © Roger La Salle 2011

The big question

Despite a number of years warning of the failing health of Steve Jobs, head of Apple, the company share price still fell some 5.2% when he recently announced his retirement.

Indeed so sensitive was this issue that prior to the announcement trading in Apple shares was suspended on the US stock market.

No doubt Steve Jobs is a wonderful visionary, innovator and entrepreneur, but a company so dependent on the skill of a single individual is a company that perhaps has failed to properly embed innovation and opportunity capture skills into its business.

So whose job is it?

It’s the task of the chief of a company to set the agenda and provide leadership. It’s the job of the staff to do the work in implementing the strategy and plans laid out before them. No business should be too reliant on the skills of a single individual.

Precisely the same can be said of innovation. Any organisation wishing to embrace change or innovation initiative needs to involve its entire staff to get the benefit of their combined knowledge and insights. Further, it is often the lower level staff that has the real and often unharvested insights into the business.

For example, imagine if you wished to take a “big stick” to an airline to innovate its offering to bring new value and new ways of doing business to its customers. Would you speak with the pilots and top management or instead the passengers check in staff, the ticket sales staff, the refuelers and the baggage handlers.

The answer is obvious, but have you ever asked the question.

What about the Customers?

How could we forget the customers!

As they say, the customer is king.

Whilst it may be difficult to have a permanent ongoing arrangement with customers to assist in “innovating” the business, we can instead teach our staff, the ones with the customer interface to observe, to actively listen to customers and to actively look for opportunities. From this we can glean all the information we require, all free of charge. This of course is possibly the most valuable information of all.

Staff Engagement is clearly the answer

Engaging people across all levels of the company has many advantages including:

• Greater involvement in the business and a willingness to follow through on new initiatives – this works to build enthusiasm and ownership
• Inspiring people to be searching for new and better ways, knowing they will be listened to
• Collecting real information from the interface with the customer.
• Building a sense of team within the business
• Taking some of the pressure from the top management.

Making it happen

The CEO of one of the most innovative businesses in the services sector in Asia has a KPI on all divisional mangers that 10% of each successive year’s revenue shall come from new and innovated products. Such is this company’s commitment to innovation, and it works. They achieve this by leveraging staff knowledge through the formation of cross functional innovation teams spread throughout the business.

These teams have a mandate to work using the proven tools of “Innovation” and “Opportunity Capture” to forever create and explore new ideas, pass these through a first evaluation filter, (referred to as the “Technology Diffusion”) then package and present them to senior management.

This process works, is systematic and simple so long as the staff have the right tools, a strong mandate and the ear of management.

What now!

The Steve Jobs approach worked for Apple but it is a risky model. Without doubt a far better approach is to unburden yourself of the task and let the people in your business all be engaged in the journey.

This is the right approach. But have you ever explored this issue? More importantly, implemented the solution?

Finally – remember this simple message

“Those organisations that fail to innovate will ultimately fail to exist and the extinction horizon these days is approaching just five years and narrowing!”

**** END ****

Roger La Salle, is the creator of the “Matrix Thinking”™ technique and is widely sought after as an international speaker on Innovation, Opportunity and business development. He is the author of four books, Director and former CEO of the Innovation Centre of Victoria (INNOVIC) as well as a number of companies both in Australian and overseas. He has been responsible for a number of successful technology start-ups and in 2004 was a regular panellist on the ABC New Inventors TV program. In 2005 he was appointed to the “Chair of Innovation” at “The Queens University” in Belfast. Matrix Thinking is now used in more than 26 countries and licensed to one of the world’s largest consulting firms. www.matrixthinking.com

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