CEOs and leaders working in innovative companies are very different to non-innovative ones. Research has revealed that those working in non-innovative companies are far more likely to delegate any work relating to innovation, whereas in contrast, leaders working within innovative companies are much more likely to actually do the work themselves. In other words, they see innovation as something that is too important to simply delegate.
There are several ways that leaders who are currently delegating the majority of their innovation work can step up to the plate and start doing more of it themselves.
Get out of the building
One of Lean Startup theorist Steve Blank’s most famous pieces of advice is to “get out of the building”. Indeed, many senior leaders most of their time in the isolation of their executive offices. However, to truly get in touch with customers and their needs, leaders need to get out of the building and closer to where their customers are hanging out.
For example, for leaders working for a food and beverage company, spend more time in supermarkets, watching customers make decisions. If you work in a bank, sit in a branch for an afternoon and observe the things that are frustrating customers about the experience.
They speak to customers
Unfortunately, the more senior managers become, the less time they spend talking to customers. I have met many senior leaders who have not spoken to a single customer for months, if not years.
Speaking to customers is one of the most powerful ways to unlock opportunities for innovation. Leaders need to spend more time with customers and to use that time finding out what frustrates them about their product or service they are selling.
The best CEOs spend ample time with customers. They prioritise their time to have conversations with customers and understand their frustrations. They also encourage others on their leadership team to do the same.
They use their networks to bounce around ideas
After getting out of the building and speaking to customers, ideas that solve customer problems should start to come to mind. The best leaders avoid the temptation to lock themselves away in their company’s offices and work on this solo. Instead, effective leaders use their networks to bounce around ideas, test their thinking, and of course, go back to customers and gauge their reaction to the innovation they are developing.
Leaders who do this most effectively have spent their careers building diverse networks of people, from a variety of different industries. They show their networks prototypes that they are working on and are open to hearing feedback.
In summary, leaders need to view innovation as something that is far too important to simply delegate to others. They need to get out of the building, speak to customers themselves and start getting their hands dirty.