Are Australian’s too risk averse to be innovative?
What is increasingly clear is that the terms ‘‘innovation’’ and ‘‘employee engagement’’ are inherently linked. Innovation is, at its core, a leadership responsibility, and therein lies the real opportunity. Harness people’s natural curiosity and capabilities and the race is half won.
Research published last year by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen and his colleagues found that organisations regarded as high-performing by industry peers and investors actively encourage the behaviours that produce innovation. The strategy is clear and widely communicated. Responsibility and accountability are pushed down to those with direct carriage, leaving executives clear to survey the horizon. Questioning is encouraged and experimentation is the norm. Reasonable failure is not a sackable offence.
As Australians, by default, we gravitate to our comfort zone. But we have the resourcefulness, pragmatism and resilience that come from living in a harsh land far from just about anywhere perceived to matter.
Innovation is often couched in sweeping national terms – “frameworks” – or technological jargon that intimidate and divert leaders from the real task, which is to motivate their people to improve things and try new approaches.
The most thoughtful leaders I’ve met rarely mention innovation; they accept change as part of the operating environment. They constantly scan for trends and future opportunities. Their management style provides clarity about big goals and autonomy for those under them. Their remuneration and reward structures encourage staff to collaborate, question, solve problems and strive to do well.
Today’s good leaders know that the only way to steer through uncertainty and ambiguity is to focus on the big questions – “What might the world look like in five or 25 years, and what are the implications for us?” – instead of adopting somebody else’s stock answer, or being diverted by short-term market or political sentiment.