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Create a climate for innovation

Fostering innovation in organisations is particularly difficult when they are struggling to keep their heads above water. However, it is precisely at times like this that innovation is so important. In an increasingly competitive landscape, organisations need to innovate more quickly than ever. Short-term focus makes innovation difficult. Long-term survival and success, however, depends on it.

You can create both a culture and a climate of innovation. Culture extends across your entire organisation. Climates of innovation can be created by leaders in each part of your organisation. Leaders at all levels can manage the complexity of total organisational innovation by the way they lead their people.

1. Make innovation a priority

Communicate clearly that innovation is a critical factor in your organisation's success. Make it part of your vision and strategy. Develop a plan that outlines the processes, procedures and behaviours to ensure innovative ideas will be successful.

2. Take an outside-in perspective

Encourage both leaders and employees to view your organisation through your customers' eyes. Customer meetings, competitive analysis, industry events and awareness of how the wider public perceives your organisation will help to challenge assumptions that can all too easily creep in. Use this improved awareness to respond to customer needs in new and creative ways.

3. Create a process for innovation

People need to know how their ideas will be used. Ensure that everyone knows who they should communicate ideas to and where to go if they need support. Establish a procedure that will govern how final decisions will be made - and publicise it.

4. Define the big levers and pull them

Most innovation in organisations is driven by clear "levers". These might include finance, core processes or product performance. These big levers accelerate the innovation process, so define what they are and focus on them in order to drive innovation.

5. Drive out fear

Fear of communicating new ideas can be a huge barrier to innovation. The most critical factor in driving out fear is the behaviour of leaders. Encourage leaders to create an open and supportive culture where risks can be taken and boundaries can be explored.

6. Create trust

After driving out fear, you need to create trust. Build on that open and supportive culture to develop mutual respect and to use conflict as a positive force. You may need to introduce both team development and leadership learning to do this. One of the most powerful things a leader can do is to display some vulnerability. It's okay for leaders to say "I don't know" or "I'm still learning".

7. Recognise both successful and unsuccessful innovators

Recognising failure as well as success can be difficult to put into practice. However, it is important to understand why individual efforts may have failed - could something have been done differently, or did the initiative fail because of circumstances beyond the innovator's control? Do not seek to apportion blame. Seek to understand what support people need in order to succeed, then set clear parameters for how success will be celebrated so that this is equal and fair.

Key points

- Make innovation central to everything - not an add-on.
- Create a climate where individuals feel free to raise new ideas without fear of ridicule.
- Encourage your leaders to create a supportive and open culture for innovation.