4 ways CIOs can drive innovation

Here’s how to use your leadership position and knowledge to harness employees’ innovation potential.

1. Develop a culture of innovation
As IT leaders it’s up to you to encourage you employees to be agents of innovation. To do that you need to create an environment where they are empowered to think, act, and create outside the prescribed department boxes. This involves developing a company culture where innovation isn’t just listed out as a company goal, but actively encouraged and supported in day-to-day life. This might mean setting aside time every week for brainstorming, or creating a physical or virtual innovation lab for the organisation. Also, in the process of creating the next big thing, there are bound to be failures. The idea is to learn from these failures and push towards success, not give up and shut down innovative ideas because a few failed. Innovation requires investment of time, money, and attention.

2. Get rid of mundane tasks and help employees find time
As an IT leader you need to help eliminate the roadblocks that stand in the way of employee. One of these is mundane tasks that take up time and pull your team away from problems that need to be solved. Work with your team to figure out what these are and how they can be put on auto mode so that employees are free to innovate. You also cannot add innovation to their list of things to do if their calendar is already full. If you’re communicating that innovation is crucial, then you need to help employees carve out time during the week, during which they can work on innovative ideas.

3. Develop a tolerance for conflict
Debates, arguments, and impassioned speeches are all par for the course when it comes to innovation. Conflict breeds creativity, while consensus breeds mediocrity. Big game changing ideas are born out of disruption, and messy, chaotic, uncomfortable situations. Colleagues driving innovation are bound to argue about approaches, processes, proof of concept, etc. While this goes against the prevalent, but often mistaken, belief that everyone must work in harmony, you need to recognise that it’s the end goal that matters—building a company that has the best products.

4. Promote collaboration
Take a look at your company’s structure and see if there are bureaucratic processes that can be simplified/eliminated so as to encourage collaboration. Bringing together different departments for an exchange of ideas and feedback jumpstarts innovation and encourages a free flow of ideas. Encourage your employees to build company-wide connections. It’s possible someone from another department could easily spot a solution that your team wouldn’t have thought of. Technophiles exist outside the IT department as well, including in marketing and sales. So work towards bringing together diverse views to create something remarkable.

Photograph: Jannoon028 – 

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