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Leading Innovation and Change: 5 criteria for success

Leading Innovation and Change: 5 criteria for success

March 2020 is a time that will be edged forever in our memories. The world went into crisis, and everything stopped. businesses closed; streets were empty, and we all became isolated. Whilst things are slowly starting to shift for the positive, what is clear is what we defined as normal pre-2020. What normal will look like going forward, will vastly change.

“In the Chinese language, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.” John F Kennedy. 

Humans innovate out of necessity and need. Without a reason to change, we will continue to do things as we always have done. The hard truth is that businesses and individuals around the world have all been, in some way, affected by the pandemic. Many trying to keep their companies afloat. This desperate need to survive post-COVID-19 has brought and given reason for innovation and change amongst businesses worldwide. It is time for companies to not just be operationally resilient to survive, but rather to be strategically resilient. Moreover to embrace the digital innovations being brought about in this new world.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities for businesses to embrace digital technologies. In fact, many who aren’t are facing extinction. E-learning is dominating the market, drone delivery services have surged, and fine-dining restaurants have entered the world of takeaways. The pandemic has created a form of acceleration through technology and the business world is being pushed faster into the future. 

Research conducted by McKinsey of around 200 organisations across multiple industries saw 90% of executives saying that they expect the COVID-19 fallout to “fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years.” However, three quarters also see the crisis as bringing new opportunities and growth. UK Research and Innovation have, to date, delivered a new investment of £400 million to 3,000 plus businesses around the UK. 

“The post-pandemic world calls for fresh leadership ideas.” – McKinsey and Company  

We can see that there is a definite change in how people are doing business. This means that those in leadership need a new vision to adapt to the constantly changing demands of consumers.  

In 2022, a business must innovate itself and find new and exciting ways of delivering products to its consumer. In 2020, 772,002 new businesses were formed in response to the pandemic. Established businesses are no longer able to rely solely on their name but have needed to find ways of innovating. Strategic change has become necessary. Take for example in 2020 when Deliveroo, which was known for food delivery pre-pandemic, joined with Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, and other supermarket stores, offering a speedy and convenient form of delivery. Fast-forward to 2022, and Deliveroo is now offering an unlimited subscription for deliveries in the UAE, pushing more people to have food and groceries delivered instead of physical shopping. 

“Put simply, resilience is about being change-ready and responding well to change.” – Roffey Park Institute  

Managing this innovative change involves five important criteria: vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. If one piece of the puzzle is missing, the change will, invariably, fail or take a form different from the desired change.  

Let’s look at an example of a change process that illustrates these criteria. 

A few years ago, I was working with a school that wanted to innovate its teaching and learning by integrating technology into all aspects of the school. They wanted their teachers and learners to use technology in a transformative manner so that it was not just a direct substitution for paper and pens. Instead of just announcing this at the start of the school year and allowing learners to bring their own devices, the school went on an innovative change process, one that took time, but made sure that the five important criteria for managing complex change were met. 

The vision 

To start with, the leaders of the school sat down and workshopped their vision. It was important for them to articulate why this innovative change was needed. Having a clear-cut vision and reason for the change in addition to achievable and measurable goals helped with the buy-in of the staff. Without a clear vision, there can be confusion amongst teams, and they often start asking questions such as, “What is the reason behind implementing this?” or “Why am I expected to do this?” As soon as there is confusion amongst your team, the change will stall. 

Understanding the skills and resources needed 

Once the school finalised their vision, the leaders made sure to equip its teaching staff with the resources needed to utilise the technology in the classroom. Teachers were given their own Apple MacBook and iPad. The resource of their own devices meant that the teachers did not become frustrated about change where they were expected to do more with less. The laptops were distributed fairly with no one feeling that one team received more than another. These physical resources helped to make sure that no one was frustrated with the change. 

What is very important is that not only are teams given resources but they are equipped with the skills to use these resources. Over a period of a year, the school offered professional development training sessions to make sure that the teachers had the necessary skills to properly use the technology in their classrooms. If you are expecting your teams to engage with anything new, you need to make sure that you have equipped them with the expertise. If you don’t, your teams will become anxious and develop blocks towards the change. 

Engaging your people

An important key with change is making sure that your staff are properly incentivised so that they are not resistant to the change. They need to see how it will benefit them and the value of the change before it can happen. This school managed the incentives in two ways: teachers were given Apple MacBook and iPad to treat as their own and encouraged to use these not only at work but in their personal lives. The school also placed prestige on technology use by giving teachers platforms to share what they had learnt and rewarding them with badges and general praise and acknowledgement.  

Creating an action plan to tackle change

Finally, it was important that the school created an action plan. This plan was laid out clearly and transparently for everyone to see exactly what each step was. This meant that the teaching staff could see the clear path forward and never felt as if they were running in the same place. It is extremely important that your teams do not feel as if they are going around and around with no clear direction. If there is no action plan, gaining any sort of traction and moving forward can become impossible. 

COVID-19 may be bringing exciting digital innovation and change to the world, shaping the future into something very different; but, unless businesses exact this complex change in a smart way, they will be left behind, struggling to adapt to this new and exciting frontier the COVID-19 pandemic has brought us. 

Before implementing any innovative complex change, make sure that your business has cemented a vision, equipped your teams with both the resources and the skills, made sure that incentives are widely being offered, and vocalised a step-by-step action plan. Without these five important criteria, it is entirely possible that absolutely no change will occur. 

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