How To Develop The Innovation Leadership Capacity Of Your High-Potential (HiPo) Leaders

Three Essential Steps To Ensure Your Future Leaders Deliver Innovation

1. Integrate training on innovation mindsets, processes and skillsets into your leadership development curriculum

Questions to consider:

  • Is innovation important to your company’s future success?
  • Has senior leadership established WHY innovation is important to the company’s future success?
  • Do you have general or high-potential (HiPo) leadership development programs in place in your company?
  • If so, do your leadership development programs include innovation as a part of the curriculum (process, mindset, skills, tools, etc.)?
  • If not, why not?

For most companies, the core elements of their leadership development programs have not changed for years, even decades. To some extent there is good reason for this: The core elements of developing “managers” into “leaders” have not changed, and programs that include assessments, introspection, values clarification, effective communication, conflict management, etc., really work. But the world around us is changing, and the leaders of tomorrow need a new set of skills. In addition to the above, future leaders need the ability to deal with VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity); use the design thinking process to generate and test ideas; use creative problem-solving techniques to think laterally versus linearly; and create environments where collaboration, risk-taking and creativity are encouraged.

2. Enroll them in an innovation project to practice their training

Classroom and reading, training, workshops, “experiential learning courses” — all these are great tools to develop the skills and mindsets for the innovative leaders of tomorrow, but there is nothing like the “real thing.”

One of the best ways to develop the leaders of tomorrow is to create a program where a cohort of leaders is run through the design thinking innovation process in pursuit of a real business challenge: Discovery, Immersion, Insights, Ideation and Prototyping. A professional, quantitative, data-driven innovation project will take nearly a year to complete, and the learning for the group will expose them not just to the process and academic aspects, but the cultural and organizational challenges involved in bringing an idea to fruition. That said, it is important that the innovation process is: A) sponsored from the highest levels, and B) coordinated by true innovation professionals who can guide them and know how to frame the challenge, design the research and evaluate the results.

3. Set innovation goals as part of the performance management process

As the saying goes, “that which is measured, matters.” If innovation is essential to the future viability of an enterprise, then it is essential to integrate innovation goals into the performance management process. Some elements of these goals can be ubiquitous — like having customer focus or being cross-functionally collaborative. However, some of these goals should differ by area, and perhaps by individual, as well. A “(Ring)leader” persona in a highly process-focused area is unlikely to be generating revolutionary or breakthrough innovations but should absolutely be expected to find evolutionary process improvements to improve efficiency or lower costs. Conversely, a director in a strategy or innovation group with an visionary “Idea Monkey” persona is unlikely to bring a host of small cost-saving ideas to the company but can and should be tasked with finding strategic white space innovation opportunities that provide new revenue growth opportunities or differentiate the brand from the competition.

Want your future leaders to deliver innovation? It is simple: Train them, give them practice, and measure them.

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