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3 Simple Ways To Improve Your Innovation Skillsby Zenger Folkman February 10, 2017

A careful analysis of Zenger Folkman’s database of more than a million 360 degree feedback instruments revealed that a leader’s speed was a powerful predictor of overall leadership effectiveness. It goes without saying, that being quick is of little value, unless accompanied by doing things right. But once the necessary quality standard is met and maintained, then an increased pace produced high dividends. I’ve called that combination “leadership speed." These leaders set themselves apart from the rest in a number of ways. For example:

1. Those leaders who were rated in the top quartile on our speed index, were rated substantially higher in their overall leadership skills. Those who were in the top quartile on speed were rated on their overall effectiveness at the 83rd percentile, whereas those leaders who were below the top quartile were at the 40th.

2. Leaders who were in the lowest 10% on speed had 16% of their employees who described themselves as highly committed to the organization; whereas those in the top 10% had 64% of their employees who rated themselves as highly committed to the organization.

3. More than two-thirds of employees at all levels agree with the statement “If this organization were to move faster, it would substantially influence our success.”

How do these leaders accomplish their work quickly and with high quality? In further examining the database, my colleague Joe Folkman and I looked for the behaviors that went hand-in-hand with this optimum combination of speed and quality. We discovered that the most highly correlated other behavior was “innovation.” Innovation appeared to strongly impact the speed and efficiency of everyday work.

What are the qualities that are the precursors to some people being highly innovative and not being confined by the past? Something prompts them to break out of the mold, to see their world in new and fresh ways, and to have the courage to try something new. There are obviously many opinions on this question. Our data provides three insights:

1. Willingness To Change

It starts with a restlessness and willingness to to consider change. Many people can think of a new, faster, more efficient way to get things done. However, change takes energy, discipline, and a willingness to do something never done before. For many activities that will ultimately make us more efficient, there is a learning curve. When we change from a method we’ve mastered to a new process, we are invariably awkward at first. The new tool makes us feel at best uncomfortable and at worst incompetent. It takes time and practice for us to return to our previous level of skill, but over time we see the value of change and perhaps even wonder why we labored so heavily on inferior approaches before. This willingness to change is often driven by a fearless loyalty to doing what’s right for the organization and customer. Pleasing the boss or some other higher level executive takes a back seat to doing the right thing for the project or the company. One respondent said, “For innovation to exist, you have to feel inspired.” This comes from a clear sense of purpose and meaning to their work.

2. Not Settling For Good Enough

The people who were most likely to be innovative were those who weren’t satisfied with good performance but were relentlessly looking for ways to raise the bar. They had a philosophy of “you commit suicide when you settle for second best.” They recruited exceptionally talented people who would challenge them and their organization. They avoided bumblers, wheel spinners, and phonies. However, the most innovative people were constantly looking for better methods and options. They excelled by setting stretch goals. These goals required people to go far beyond working harder, but required them to find new methods in order to achieve the goal. The challenge of meeting the goal was often framed as “getting to the next level.”

Think about your own situation. Which activities take more time than they should. How could they become more efficient?

3. Assembling An Innovative Community

The Medicis were a very prominent, well-to-do family of bankers. In the fifteenth century they brought together and funded many of the great artists, philosophers, architects, and financiers in Florence, Italy. The Medici Effect refers to the burst of innovation and creativity that results from bringing together great people from a variety of different fields. The innovative works of many of these individuals launched the Renaissance. Few innovations are original ideas that no one else has ever had in times past. Many innovations are ideas or approaches borrowed from one discipline and applied to another. Exposing yourself to new and diverse fields can profoundly impact your ability to discover an innovative approach that will increase your speed or the pace of an organization. The success of this community relies on a climate of reciprocal trust. The highly innovative leaders were differentiated by their warm, collaborative relationships within their group. They made themselves highly accessible. Colleagues knew that their leader would cover their back versus stabbing them in the back. People were never punished for honest, well-intended mistakes.

The wonderful thing about using innovation to increase speed is that when you implement it well, it becomes an independent and powerful force that propels the organization forward. It augments leaders and increases their performance. Knowing this, a key question to ask yourself in 2017 is: “What is holding me back from being more innovative?” Your delay may be limiting you more than you know.

Read the article on Forbes.


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