Dodging the disruptive brands outflanking your business, mastering new technologies, and navigating unpredictable economic times are all part of today’s reality. It’s clear why CEOs are finding themselves under mounting pressure to be more innovative to satisfy the need for growth.
And for good reason. Average company shelf life has fallen to 19 years from 55 years in 1960, and almost “88% of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1955 are no longer present today.” That reflects the accelerating pace of change in the world of business. No wonder then that business leaders polled in PwC’s 20th CEO Survey rated innovation, alongside creativity, as one of the key areas to drive their business as they seek to stay ahead of competitors.
But with innovation seemingly all around us, fuelled by rapid technological change, there is irony in the fact that the same CEOs also identified innovation as one of the hardest qualities to find. So why are businesses failing to locate and tap into the abundance of innovation around them?
A Missed Opportunity
Delve into the conundrum a bit deeper, and it becomes apparent that businesses are not necessarily looking for it in the right places. A recent study by Accenture highlighted the positive news that 75% of employees perceive themselves as entrepreneurial. However, the same report also highlighted that 75% of entrepreneurs leave big companies because they feel they can’t be entrepreneurial enough.
This is a real missed opportunity. Harnessing the energies and talents of employees can be truly transformative. These are, after all, the people who know the sector, the business, and the clients. They understand the delicate financial, operational, and cultural elements necessary for innovation to succeed, and they’re fired up to do so. Businesses, therefore, need to be placing much greater attention on identifying the talent already available to them and implementing structures that unlock the flow of innovative ideas throughout the business.
More specifically, businesses need to filter out the true innovators within this talent pool—those with real game-changing potential. These are the individuals who can often be overlooked, either shackled by excessive structural strangleholds on their creativity or suppressed by a company culture of “innovation is for the innovators” that limits their potential. Businesses need to be sensitive to these barriers and then follow the breadcrumbs to identify them, avoiding the trap of fixating on the job title or corporate hierarchy.
Spot Your Game Changer
There are clues in the character of a game changer. They exhibit the professional personality traits needed to inspire potentially unexpected growth—highly solution-orientated and prepared to take unconventional steps in order to bring those solutions to life. They are the ones who aren’t afraid to strongly challenge the consensus in the room whilst managing to retain the respect of colleagues.
Taking it further, they possess the functional skills to go beyond the great ideas. One of the most prominent skills a game changer has is a killer instinct to network, being skilled in the art of persuasion and able to walk into and “work” a room. This means that they are able to navigate their organisation brilliantly, recruiting support and backing from the right people in the business to give their game-changing ideas the best chance of getting off the ground.
Most crucially of all, the game changers are the ones who don’t let pay grades prevent them from leading from the front and galvanising support from both superior and junior colleagues in the process. They make diplomatic leadership an art form and inspire confidence in their colleagues to take a leap of faith in their innovative idea, convincing others that the opportunity outweighs the perceived risk. More than that, they have the drive to deliver it.
Nurture, Train, And Guide
Once a game changer has been identified through the unique skills he or she offers, their potential must be structured, but not restricted, to ensure they fit into, support, and align with the business objectives and goals. This might look like an intrapreneur programme, but it can also be the allocation of time to employees for innovation, as 3M famously does, or releasing funds to a CIO to give them more room for manoeuvre to invest appropriately, such as for internal seed funds.
It’s then important to nurture, train, and guide them into being able to thrive and eke out their full potential. They need to be instructed on what good innovation looks like for the business. Is it revenue-generating? Is it about big leaps forward or incremental gains? Opening up the floor to existing employees may uncover ideas in some surprising places, and those people will be best placed to take it forward.
None of this is to say that the role of the chief innovation officer is over. Rather, it’s to demonstrate the important point that innovation can reside elsewhere, as Google, which famously allocates 20% of employees’ time to embark on whichever projects they want to work on outside of their regular work, has so artfully demonstrated. By committing to unlocking the innovation under its nose, Google has amassed an army of game changers that has helped turn it into one of the most pioneering companies in the world.