Cultivating Innovation in a New Era: Post-Pandemic Leadership

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship Startup Advice / May 24, 2021
Cultivating innovation in a tenuous, post-pandemic landscape will require a shift in leadership style, priorities, and approach.

Ever since the recent pandemic disrupted our lives and workplaces worldwide, cultivating innovation has gotten decidedly trickier. Senior managers and executives have had to shoulder and ultimately adapt to unexpected changes to workplace normality, operations, and career progress more than any other time in recent history.

The business environment has always been difficult to predict, let alone during a period of pandemic uncertainty. The good news? Advances in technology and global shifts in cultural attitudes play a critical role in the way organizations are run, both internationally and domestically.

Take Zoom, for example. The omnipresent video conferencing platform met the increased demand for its products with timely and smart innovations meant to secure the general workplace infrastructure. Apple did, too, though they didn’t just create cool devices. Both organizations sought to “think differently” and challenge the status quo by creating products unlike anything else.

Of course, not every organization can operate exactly like Zoom or Apple. But every business, regardless of its vision, can seek to establish a culture of innovation and promote innovative thinking and application among various teams. Executives can model innovation through their choices about business direction. Managers can support innovative approaches from their team and apply creative thinking to their processes.

Cultivating Innovation: A Must for Exceeding Customer Expectations

Successful organizations innovate to quickly meet — and even anticipate — their customers’ varying needs. Instead of making assumptions about their customer base, these businesses remain curious and consistently investigate customer needs as circumstances change.

Leaders who stay close to customers are more likely to understand their varying needs with the result that innovation becomes much easier. To realize that a customer requires something completely new and different from what you offer can certainly be daunting. However, it’s also a new and exciting opportunity that hinges on meeting those needs to preserve the relationship.

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To Cultivate Innovation, Your Company Needs to Know What It Wants

To cultivate innovation, your business has to know its place in the world and accept the sacrifices needed to get there.

Contrary to many beliefs, innovation isn’t just a team of coworkers brainstorming new ideas. According to Melody Loops, for a company to cultivate innovation, it will need to:

  • Promote culture innovation by aligning everyone in a shared mission for change and progress. This may include regular (not just once a year) brainstorming sessions, encouraged experimentation, curious attitude, bonuses, and rewarding of innovative thinking.
  • See innovation as a must-change. Launching new services and products, pivoting the business, or changing a mission statement needs buy-in and encouragement of all kinds. Innovative leaders must also be change leaders.
  • Train at all levels. Employees must get comfortable with regular brainstorming sessions and creative thinking approaches to all of their projects. 

The Four Types of Innovation Culture

Today’s leaders need to realize that what at first seems to be a single innovation is actually dozens of innovations being harmonized across a wider range of organizations and cultures. To put it simply, there is no one have-it-all solution. CEOs need to make choices and make every effort to provide whatever’s needed to cultivate innovation.

1. Create Culture

Covid-19 vaccines were created across large federations of organizations, referred to as “creativity clusters.” The massive project involved everyone from bio technicians, pharmacists, lab workers, universities, investors, and numerous domain experts across various disciplines. The Create Culture concept is flexible, ad hoc, and changes whenever new things are discovered. Leaders keep all these organizations functioning together by sharing their vision.

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2. Control Culture

We saw the way Operation Warp Speed coordinated important manufacturers, airlines, supply chains, package delivery, and managed pharmacies to help produce, distribute, and deliver the vaccine. Such operations have to work in tandem from end to end. Control Culture uses hierarchy to ensure everyone respects their role and its attributes. CEOs in this setting tend to be data-driven and forever on the prowl for process improvement.

3. Compete Culture

This refers to the pace at which an organization moves. Compete Culture-driven leaders revive the workplace through decisive action. You’ll often see these leaders setting aggressive short-term goals that challenge employees to overcome barriers.

4. Collaborate Culture

Collaborate Culture is all about sustainability among teams and organizations. The CEO in this setting must be value-driven and create cooperation across all fronts. A collaborative workplace culture values consensus, which can slow decision-making. In a collaborative workplace setting, the success of a team is defined by steady and valuable relationships.

Discipline Is at the Core of Cultivating Innovation

You’ve heard it dozens of times. Cultivating innovation requires discipline.

A disciplined leader stays close to innovations from the very beginning all the way to development and execution. They don’t waste time being indecisive at the project kickoff and show up to the big event at the end. Regular checks and balances offer more insight and collaboration opportunities whereas aloof oversight followed by a pompous reveal ceremony always falls short.

In many work cultures, informal water cooler discussions were largely wiped out by the pandemic. Leaders had to become more thoughtful about dedicating time to promote innovation. Employees had to become more connected to great ideas and more purposeful in their pursuit.

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Innovation can take place at every level. Whether we like it or not, innovation is everyone’s responsibility. Those who encourage and reward innovative thinking throughout their organization will quite naturally nurture an innovation culture. These CEOs go to great lengths to ensure everyone in the company understands the key pillars of the organization’s strategy.

When CEOs prompt teams to remain curious about how their work drives strategy, employees think innovatively about their products and services. They seek to solve new challenges with new ideas. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Innovation requires collaboration, so teams understand how the new service or product will affect each department. It’s about customer needs at every stage of development. There’s no singular thinking when it comes to customer needs so when the right minds weigh in, the right solutions tend to surface. And CEOs know it.

About The Author

Kimberly Zhang

Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.