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Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation: How to Retain Innovators in Your Company

Why It Is Important to Think Innovatively

Innovative thinking means the ability to generate and implement non-standard ideas, to look at processes creatively, propose new methods and products. In the world of constant technological change and globalization, companies cannot remain competitive on the market without monitoring current trends, implementing best practices in production, and using innovative developments. But breakthrough changes, in turn, require not only government support, but also the transformation of the mindset of a large number of people. In other words, they are impossible without an innovative society and culture based on continuous education, freedom of experimentation, and suggestions.

You don’t need to change the old culture – you need to find aspects of it that will help you move forward. In this case, even though various decisions in the company are made by hundreds and even thousands of people, the cultural transformation begins with the involvement of unique employees, using the energy of creative professionals. But where to find these professionals?

How to Become an Innovator

A leader of innovations is distinguished not only by his deep understanding of industrial problems but also by his wide range of methodical and soft skills. He must be able to prove his expertise, question the established corporate foundations (and therefore, the competence of the people who created them), and propose ways to build a new culture and business processes together with the team.

Today, innovative leaders are trained as part of MBA programs, in foreign schools such as Hyper Island, as well as in large consulting companies launching their own courses . Usually, the training of creative specialists is approached from the position of immersion in a particular industry, mentoring sessions, and building in-house teams.

What Practices Are There

There are a lot of technologies and methods to develop creativity and unconventional thinking. Some of them are more effective when applied on a personal level, while others will be useful in reshaping thinking and developing skills in a team. Let’s consider some of them.

1. Mentoring

According to Endeavor (an NGO that supports entrepreneurs around the world), 30% of successful tech startups in New York had mentors. A mentor can look at the situation from the outside, help to get rid of old habits and acquire new ones, share knowledge, contacts, insights, build a team. This can be a mentor for an executive, a new employee in the office, or a mentor for a startup team.

2. Coaching

Some people confuse this method with the previous one, but there is a difference between the two. A coach helps you move towards what you want, but it’s the mentee who sets the goals and chooses the format for moving towards them. A coach will not tell you what to do. Most likely, he will ask questions with which the client will leave to do his “homework” and find answers and solutions on his own. Coaching would be useful, for example, for a company employee who wants to become a department head.

3. Mastermind groups

This is a group of like-minded people who gather to support each other in personal and professional tasks. It can be organized as a one-time event to solve a particular problem. For example, a specific project involving people with similar backgrounds. Or for continuous work, improvement of skills, accumulation of certain experience in a team.

4. Brainstorming sessions

Conduct brainstorming in the form of a game, not a meeting. At the same time, there are several rules in any brainstorm:

  • any ideas are accepted and not criticized;
  • everyone works for the overall result;
  • there are no positions and subordination in the process of storming;
  • the more ideas, the better.

5. Internal startups

An internal startup is a workable tool for realizing a team’s potential. It can be a way to motivate employees, as well as an opportunity to influence product development and introduce new features. As a result, the necessary atmosphere is created and innovative projects are born.

6. Design thinking

This methodology helps employees be creative yet effective in generating and testing ideas.

As Google points out in its methodology, it is built on three principles:

  • the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes;
  • the breadth of thinking;
  • experimentation.

The skills learned in design thinking can also be applied in a creative sprint to test ideas with rapid prototyping.

When Technology Helps

Large companies often develop internal courses and training to build corporate culture and educate employees. They can be taken on-the-job. And new technologies help in this. For example, many companies are introducing corporate training programs using VR/AR tools.

In which case immersive technologies can be especially effective:

  1. Onboarding customers and staff. With the help of new technologies, it is possible to convey the company’s work regulations, values, spirit, and culture. These are the concepts that cannot be memorized, they need to be realized and practiced to be assimilated.
  2. To help overcome psychological barriers, transform knowledge into experience, and transfer it from the virtual environment to the real one. In a virtual environment, a team member can practice skills that require stepping out of their comfort zone, such as communication. VR creates a sense of security despite the stressful background of making decisions or learning new things. One learns to manage one’s attitude to a particular situation, receive feedback and choose an effective behavioral strategy.
  3. To practice public speaking skills in front of different audiences: rehearsing the defense of a project, speaking at a conference, at TED, or even in a courtroom.
  4. VR-trainer allows you to record your speech after the training and evaluate the result from the side. This helps you learn how to think differently, to find non-standard ways to solve a problem.

Online courses with gamification are also used in employee training. They have a lot of advantages: game mechanics develop creativity, make lessons more memorable, and give an incentive to go to the end. Gamification can help a new employee adapt and engage faster in an environment that is as close to work as possible.

What Keeps Brain Drain at Bay

It often happens that employees gaining experience and skills during expensive corporate programs leave for other companies, investing the acquired knowledge in the competitor’s firm. How do businesses retain talent?

To understand how to retain and grow a team that you’ve invested a lot of money, energy, and soul into, it’s important to remember the reasons why people leave a company.

1. Good management

They come to the company, they leave the manager. Micromanagement, distrust, unwillingness to develop people, inability to recognize their merits – if you, as a business leader, observe this in their subordinate managers, there is reason to think.

2. Well-established performance management

Talent needs adequate tracking of its work. Total control and accountability at every turn on the one hand, and absolute anarchy on the other, are two processes that lead to the burnout of strong people. It is important to strive for balance, to give feedback when the person himself does not see the way, and to let go when he needs to show freedom of thinking.

3. Recognition of achievements

Even the most ambitious, motivated and well-paid professionals run out of work if their merits are not recognized. Man is a social creature, and continually ignoring valuable accomplishments will cause him to seek recognition on the side.

4. Glass ceiling

Developing people tend to be ambitious and want formal growth. If they don’t have opportunities for that in the foreseeable future, be prepared to lose them. Blurred promises like “someone like you at our company will definitely grow to such-and-such a position” may work for a few months, but not years.

5. Culture

Culture acts as a kind of link that connects people, processes, and structures. An employee of any level exists comprehensively in this culture, and not separately in his function or motivation system. When the unwritten law of the organization coincides with the personal values of the employee, the culture contributes to the release of energy to achieve a common goal and leads the organization to prosperity. When not, talented people leave.”

A Good Example Is Contagious

Corporate culture transformation and any internal changes that hundreds and thousands of employees go through can be very challenging. Innovation is impossible without the active role of business leaders. So it is important not to lose touch with your subordinates, encourage them, and get inspired by their example. Involvement of business leaders, as well as empathy, flexibility, and the ability to recognize uncertainty help “humanize” the transformation process.

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