What makes a great leader? That’s the question posed by Professor Linda A. Hill and her colleagues in an article published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) last year. Linda Hill is Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and widely considered a top expert in the field of innovation leadership. Drawing upon years of research, Hill and her co-authors spell out the answer to their question for us by introducing their “ABCs”, three key roles that drive innovation at scale.
While reading their article I was struck by two things. One was that its core message so closely aligns with our own belief at Qmarkets: that innovation leadership is most effective when it develops the culture and tools to promote participation in the innovation process right across the organization itself and beyond.
The second thing that occurred to me was that each of these ABCs are roles that we proactively embed within organizations through innovation management software. In this article, I want to explore the ABCs of innovation leadership presented by Hill and her co-authors, and demonstrate how, with the right software tools, innovation leaders can achieve all three of them.
The ABCs of Innovation Leadership
A is for Architect
In order for innovation to thrive in an organization, a framework needs to be in place that empowers and incentivizes every employee to share their ideas. Innovation leaders should therefore play the role of architect in designing and implementing this framework so that everyone can reach their own innovation potential, and drive success at their organization.
Innovation management software provides the technological infrastructure to make that happen. Idea management software allows organizations to crowdsource ideas from across the business, and enables the collaboration necessary to enrich those ideas, progress the best ones, and develop them into outstanding innovations.
Just as important as the technology itself is the culture that this type of software helps to nurture. It gives them a platform for their ideas, promotes collaboration, and rewards participation. In so doing, a culture of innovation achieves the fundamental objective of the architect, according to Hill et al: to “remove barriers that limit creativity and build the mindsets and behaviors required for co-creation”.
B is for Bridger
It’s already challenging enough for a leader to encourage innovation across functions or geographies or business units within an organization; it’s even more challenging to encourage employees to work closely with people outside the organization. But that’s exactly what a bridger must do: systematically gain access to talent and tools that cannot be found within the walls of a single department, division, or company.
In What Makes a Great Leader, the authors establish the concept of ‘leader as bridger’. No matter how vibrant or effective the innovation activities of a single team, department, or organization, it will achieve far better results if it can successfully integrate internal talent and capabilities with external ones.
Leaders can implement innovation management software to support the role and responsibilities of the bridger. Gathering ideas and solutions from across the organization connects participants and nurtures a culture that encourages collaboration and learning across teams and business departments.
Creating bridges between the organization and the outside world can be equally important. There are thousands of opportunities out there to partner with start-ups and other organizations, which may have already discovered the solution to the exact problem that has been stumping your company for months.
Technology scouting software is purpose-built to transform leaders into external bridgers. It enables them to identify relevant external partners and resources, whether its startups, technologies, subject-matter experts, academia, or patents. And it facilitates engagement with these parties to build co-beneficial, innovative relationships that solve their strategic business challenges.
C is for Catalyst
[Catalysts] energize and activate key players, recognizing that to enable the organization to fulfil its purpose, they must empower other organizations to work differently.
The third role encouraged in What Makes a Great Leader is that of the catalyst. Catalysts ‘encourage and accelerate’ innovation outside of the organization and across its wider ecosystem in order to bring successful collaborations into fruition.
At Qmarkets, our ‘catalyst network’ performs a similar function. It encourages and accelerates innovation, albeit within the organization itself. We actively work with our customers to scale up the impact of their innovation management program by encouraging catalysts to run idea challenges with new audiences within their organizations. We also empower our catalysts to advocate and educate other teams, departments, and geographies within their organizations.
In doing so, the organization benefits from more employees sharing their ideas, and a growing culture of innovation that increases readiness for the challenges of tomorrow.
Spelling Success With Innovation Management Software
At the heart of the HBR piece is the message that true leadership in today’s business landscape involves the relinquishing of some degree of control. Leaders should instead establish a bottom-up culture that empowers all employees to participate in the innovation process, and welcomes engagement with external parties to build solutions.
That’s also at the heart of what we do at Qmarkets. We sell software, yes, but a crucial function of our software is to break innovation out of board rooms and R&D departments and unleash it across entire businesses and their wider ecosystems.
Idea management software looks to employees and customers for insights and ideas, while long-lasting and powerful collaborations are facilitated through technology scouting. ‘As easy as 1-2-3’ might be a stretch for these particular ABCs, but the right tools can equip innovation leaders to fulfil the vital functions of architect, bridger, and catalyst, and drive innovation at scale.