How to fulfill the innovation potential of D&I initiatives *Construction Dive

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Business leaders want great organizational cultures that have diverse perspectives and in which people feel included. They are also told that such cultures are naturally more innovative. That is true to a point. Innovation potential is enhanced by diversity of perspectives and inclusive culture, but even with these, innovation is not automatic.

Nobody expects that simply hiring a group of smart people automatically guarantees that the group will turn into a high-performing team. That is why leaders and teams get leadership training and coaching.

Likewise, achieving the innovation potential of an organization (even as it works on improving diversity of perspectives and being more inclusive) requires knowledge and application of best practices.

If leaders want to really fulfill the innovation potential of their organizations, they need to strengthen three elements: diversity of perspectives, inclusive culture and innovation framework.

The great advantage of having good diversity of perspectives is that it provides more visibility to opportunities and risks. A little bit of diversity of perspective would have gone a long way in helping Chevrolet to avoid the downside of naming a car “Nova” in Latin American markets when that name literally means “no go” in Spanish.

In construction, strengthening diversity of perspective might mean having people with knowledge of new technology options, experience with novel delivery methodologies or the knowledge of the nuances inherent in new markets (segments or geographic). Construction leaders might consider getting these perspectives by hiring people without the typical construction backgrounds, recruiting from different college programs or by actively exposing people to experiences and training that will develop new perspectives.

Inclusive cultures are necessary because they tap into potential residing across all parts of the organization. Inclusive cultures seek to engage with people no matter where they are in the organization — deep in the organization or even across different departments.

For instance, many Americans like Peloton bikes, but they love being part of the Peloton community. That kind of dedication comes from excellent innovation across functions like marketing and engineering.

For construction leaders creating an inclusive culture might mean effectively engaging with field talent and suppliers and really listening to their ideas to be more innovative. It also might also mean creating innovation teams across functions or business groups to get and deliver optimal projects in a faster way. It definitely means engaging as many people as possible to improve the business.

Beyond processes

The third piece of the puzzle, a robust innovation framework, will drive innovation and apply business creativity. Diversity and inclusion just sets the table, it does not guarantee a satisfactory meal.

An innovation framework includes two key elements: a process that people can follow and leaders who are masterful in leading that process. The process needs to be broad enough to generate new ways of thinking and allow companies to go beyond merely getting better at what they already know.

It did Blockbuster no good to be a fully optimized brick and mortar operation. It does no good if the innovative spirit that started an enterprise is not encouraged throughout today’s leadership ranks. What could Kodak have done with talent ready to lead the company to a digital future?

In construction, a robust framework will mean going beyond innovation processes that merely optimize how a company does things today. It will also mean having all leaders (from senior leadership to field leadership) being able to lead people in a way that ensures people will provide and execute on ideas to improve the operation.

There are five things that leaders can do to fulfill the innovation promise of D&I:

  1. Strengthen all three essential components for a healthy innovation culture: diversity of perspectives, inclusive culture, and a framework for innovation. All three are necessary. Lack of a diversity of perspectives leads to organizational blind spots. Lack of people feeling included can lead to innovation deserts in the organization. Lack of a framework leads to a failed innovation promise.
  2. Prepare leaders to be more adept at leading innovation. Many leaders are asked to be more innovative, but many are not provided with the leadership tools to make it happen.
  3. Organize innovation efforts broadly. Look beyond the traditional areas of IT or the C-suite. Include all business and functional areas in the development of new ways to improve the business.
  4. Use top-down strategy and bottom-up innovation. Leaders must cascade their strategic objectives to the organization, but they also need to make it clear that they want the organization to come back with ideas to improve and grow.
  5. Scale innovation efforts at the enterprise level. Today, using technology, it is easier than ever to engage the entire organization in an innovation cycle. Idea management platforms can help surface ideas to meet strategic challenges and give the necessary visibility to nurture ideas and see them to completion.

Leaders who can bring together diverse perspectives, create environments where people feel included and have a framework to channel business creativity will not only create cultures they are proud of, they will have created a huge competitive advantage for their business.

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