With each passing year, technology assumes a greater role in the development of new products and services. Without the introduction of new products and services, companies lose ground to competitors that provide consumers with what they want. What is the primary driver behind developing new products and services? Is it vast technical skills and knowledge? Does professional experience matter?
What if we told you that innovation represents the most important factor in transforming technology into the engine driving the development of new products and services?
Innovation played a crucial role in defining operational success at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. Although the pandemic forced most companies to close their doors for business, innovative organizations took advantage of the new workplace paradigm by following a “sink or swim” approach when it came to making remote workplaces productive locations for employees to contribute their respective skills.
The pandemic also ushered in a monumental shift in how organizations view IT departments, which now are viewed as equal partners, if not the most important partner in creating innovative business initiatives.
Let’s see how CIOs can create and foster innovation in their organizations.
Build a Culture That Promotes Collaboration
Innovation does not develop in isolation. The first item on a CIO’s to-do list for fostering innovation involves encouraging collaboration, not only among IT professionals, but also between the IT department and other departments in an organization.
Start by removing physical barriers and then focus on improving the way communication is exchanged. Taking a page out of the Steve Jobs leadership notebook is a great place to start when encouraging more collaboration. The legendary business leader redesigned the offices at Pixar to get animators and computer technicians to exchange ideas more often.
Another effective strategy to encourage collaboration is relying more on one-on-one interactions instead of depending on technology such as emails to get the job done.
Set Aside Time for Experimentation
As an IT leader, you cannot expect to develop new products and services unless the members of your talented team spend time experimenting with different ideas. Assign a team to explore new technologies and discover new business applications that help improve the workplace environment for experimentation. CIOs must provide the new team with the time and space to experiment with new ideas for team members to feel comfortable taking chances with previously ignored business opportunities.
The IT team members responsible for trying out new ideas must embrace change for experimentation to work.
Although it seems counterintuitive to welcome failure, the only way to foster innovation is to expect most new ideas to fail to take flight as part of the success of your organization. Innovation is like both sides of a finely sharpened blade. On one side of the blade, organizational growth depends on innovation. However, on the equally sharpened other side of the innovation blade, pursuing the goal of growth through innovation poses several risks that include failure.
If an idea fails to take off, learn from the mistakes made and then fine-tune a strategy to revisit the same idea in the near future. Your IT team members must feel confident enough to view failure as a welcome part of the innovation process.
IT Innovation is About People
IT innovation is all about people, not machines. You can program the most advanced software and not get anywhere when trying to introduce new products and services if the members of your team do not feel fully invested in the organization’s vision for innovation. This means as a CIO, you should remove the technical walls that inhibit the growth of professional relationships among members of your IT department.
Identify the professional strengths of each team member, and then assign responsibilities to each team member that leverage each of the individual strengths.
Focus on Innovation, Not New Technologies
One of your most important obligations as a CIO is to integrate new technologies into the operational structure of your organization. However, integrating new technologies does not mean your organization has achieved innovation. Promoting a culture that rewards innovation boils down to understanding that people are the drivers of innovations, not high-tech machines. Technology is merely the tool that makes innovation happen.
People are the source that creates the ideal atmosphere that is conducive to developing innovative ideas.
The Bottom Line: Promote Transparency as Innovation is Implemented
Transparency is the cornerstone of increasing the likelihood that the members of your IT department embrace innovation. Keep every team member in the information loop by explaining the details of every innovation rolled out by the IT department, Explain the purpose of every innovation, as well as ask for feedback on the impact every innovative idea has on the performance of your organization.
Innovation is something that cannot be taught. Instead, it must be encouraged by adopting new ways of approaching IT challenges.