3 Things Leaders Can Do to Innovate and Drive Growth

Keith Krach
December 17, 2016

Leading a company requires much from today's business executives. Like successful leaders in decades past, they must have excellent judgment, be skilled motivators, and be able to analyze and navigate complex organizational problems as they arise.

Leadership positions in business have conventionally required the people who fill them to also be proficient innovators. However, it has arguably never been more important to innovate than it is in today's digital age, when industry-disrupting developments occur more frequently than ever before.

To drive innovation, all leaders must develop innovation strategies. While no two strategies will be the same, all leaders should focus on incorporating the following three things into their innovation strategies in order to drive company growth and find success in today's business market.

1. Get serious about the technology that you use.

Embracing technology is no longer just an option, it's the new standard. Digitization has revolutionized the business sector in way that leaves companies no choice but to seek out digital tools to replace traditional processes if they want to see any kind of significant future success.

The point of integrating new technologies into your company's everyday processes is to increase business velocity. Speed is the new currency of business, and any company that can't keep up the pace will find themselves always falling behind the innovators in the industry.

To find the tools that will best equip your business for speed, train your focus toward the customer. Which operational processes within your company can be altered to improve the customer experience? Where can you restructure, redevelop, or reinvent in order to cut back on the time it takes to deliver your product or service?

Professionals in the digitization industry suggest starting with a vision and working your way backward. Imagine the ideal goal for a process, free of all current constraints. Then, re-introduce the roadblocks to reaching that goal one at a time, looking for ways to reconfigure the process to navigate around them. Shortening a process from a week to a day or from hours to minutes is possible when the right technology is used to do things like automate, go paperless, and streamline disjointed operations.

2. Listen closely to what your customers are saying.

Companies that excel at innovation cannot get enough customer feedback, and they solicit it in as many forms as possible. Actively seeking opportunities to hear what your customers are saying gives your company the chance to learn about its strengths and weaknesses.

When feedback is sought, products and services can be improved to better address customer needs. Additionally, customer satisfaction levels can be measured to help businesses establish whether or not they are on a path that is conducive to growth.

Obtaining regular input from customers can help your company identify subtle consumer trends that could have a bearing on your company's ability to innovate within its industry. While more traditional methods of gaining customer feedback can yield useful insights, the most innovative companies are supplementing these avenues by harnessing the power of big data.

The use of big data is only projected to grow in the business world. Those who don't learn to effectively manage it will lose a valuable edge to their more technologically literate competitors. Big data can help your company make predictions about your customers' preferences and buying habits, assist your company in optimizing its business processes, and anticipate changes in industries.

3. Build innovation into your company culture.

Leadership bears some of the responsibility for how well a company succeeds in its quest for innovation and growth. An important component of creating a strong innovation strategy has less to do with operational processes and more to do with the policies and environment that are established for a company's staff.

For companies to benefit from innovation, leadership must first establish guidelines that are cohesive with innovative business practices. They must also model the behavior that they want to see in their employees.

For innovation to occur, employees must first feel confident taking risks. Smart risk-taking should be encouraged by leadership, and failure after a smart risk should not be punished. Experimentation is at the heart of innovation, and with risk comes reward.

Leadership should push employees to move quickly and “fail forward” after setbacks. Employees should also learn to take insight away from their failures and apply the new knowledge to the next project as quickly as possible. A company's culture should promote the sense that questions are encouraged and all ideas are valued.

Leaders must also be sure to supply their employees with the tools and management style needed to facilitate innovative work. From the C-suite down, all members of management should exhibit the kind of innovative behavior they wish to see.

Companies that are new to embracing innovation may jumpstart the process by setting up small project teams for quick wins. Employees need to see that taking an innovative approach to their work can yield positive results early on in the process in order to make them feel more confident about making it a habit in the future. Promote the idea of working quickly and collaboratively without fear in order to give your company the first taste of growth at the hands of innovation.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.