5 Leader-Driven Behaviors of Deliberately Innovative Organizations

by Diana Palmieri, Senior Consultant at SBE

Leaders have the unique responsibility to create the conditions in which the rest of the organization works. Their behaviors shape the culture that guides employee and customer interactions, ultimately creating (or destroying) value for their organization.

Culture matters, and the actions employees exhibit are just as important as the bottom-line results they help to achieve.

As organizations consider how to cultivate innovation internally, they should first define what true innovation is and which behaviors need to be actioned to make it a reality. Innovation is more than just thinking creatively. It’s the series of events that turn a sparked idea into implemented reality. ​Ultimately, innovation is the ability to consider alternative possibilities, seek fresh perspectives, and divergently question the current-state to achieve something new or enhanced that creates value. ​

Across industries, there are key traits that deliberately innovative organizations have in common—all of which can be driven by leadership. We summarize five of these traits below:

1. Employees are given the time and space to be creative.

Just like in our personal lives, if something matters to us, we find a way to carve out time to devote to it. Organizations that value innovation provide employees the time, space, and resources to be creative. This can be as simple as providing dedicated slack time or investing in training or stretch assignments to create employee growth opportunities. Enabling these practices will help employees feel that it is part of their job to solve problems, even if they don’t sit in a formal innovation department.

2. Expectations for fail-forward risk-taking are clear.

Innovative organizations socialize an acceptance for informed risk-taking. They set informal guard rails so employees know when this behavior is most appropriate – such as smaller scale projects, pilots, and everyday process improvements. Leaders can incorporate risk-taking into their feedback conversations by discussing how employees achieved results and when they looked for new ways of doing things – even if they weren’t successful. Leaders should communicate that elements of basic creativity such as observing, thinking, and making connections is part of every employee’s job.

3. Employees are encouraged to make connections beyond their day-to-day work.

Employees who see beyond their day-to-day work and have insight into the broader goals of the organization are more likely to be engaged in their work and more inclined to innovate. By getting employees excited and helping them tangibly see how their work impacts other departments, customers, and organizational goals, they are also receiving more perspective and a sense that their work matters.

4. Successes are celebrated and time to derive lessons learned from failures is dedicated.

Failure can be valuable in that it enables reflection and the opportunity for future improvement. Organizations that focus on continuous improvement and set aside time to debrief failure are more likely to create psychological safety for employees. Leaders at such organizations never place blame on individuals (direct or implied) or “black list” them from future opportunities. In this way, they are able to stifle risk aversion while informing lessons for future innovation.

5. Leadership walks the talk and leads by example.

Innovative organizations have leaders who deliberately mirror the cultures they want to elicit. Culture isn’t nebulous; culture emerges predictably through cause-and-effect relationships between behaviors and feedback. And it isn’t just about other people’s behaviors – it’s about how leaders show up each day. The culmination of those behaviors and experiences witnessed by the rest of the organization ultimately drive the accepted norms. Employees who see their leaders productively question and be open to new possibilities are more likely to action those behaviors themselves. Cultures in which ideas are welcomed and employees feel that they will be supported for taking risks within reason—even if they fail—are more prone to being creative.

Raising innovation levels in an organization requires deliberate changes focused on leaders and culture. Demonstrating and rewarding the right behaviors will result in an environment where employees are encouraged to productively disrupt the current state and take fail-forward risks, without impacting productivity and performance.

If you’re interested in the topic of innovation, join our Results-Driven Innovation Executive Roundtable Series in NYC: