Now is the time when many leaders are looking into the future, deciding where to invest their valuable time and resources. Digital transformation, innovation and workplace model change is undoubtedly high on the agenda. Sadly, in my experience, most of these much-needed initiatives will fail.
I believe that the single most critical element that separates innovation success from failure is communication. After all, sustainable and successful transformation requires us to communicate, communicate, communicate. And then? Communicate some more. When communication is at its best, so is innovation, and here is why:
1. Unlike invention, innovation can’t exist without communication.
The lonely innovator is a myth. Solo innovation does not exist. Unlike invention, it’s a team sport. Working in solitude may lead to invention, but not innovation because it requires communication with others.
Innovation only happens thanks to groups of people working together to achieve specific goals. It is at its best when it’s a result of communicating across inclusive, diverse, cross-functional teams that are empowered to make decisions and enact change. As a leader, it’s your job to create an environment where teams like these can emerge and succeed.
2. Digital transformation requires focused communication.
The internet transports hundreds of millions of emails, not to mention countless media posts and news articles, every hour of the day. As a result of digitization, we are bombarded with information that we often can’t even comprehend.
As you execute on digital transformation initiatives, you will inevitably make it much easier to communicate, leading to a higher volume of content. It’s essential that you plan for that and communicate precisely and consistently, thus helping separate the important content from the noise.
3. Ecosystem co-innovation puts communication into the spotlight.
Customer experience gets a lot of credit, and rightfully so, but when it comes to innovation, you’re looking at the entire ecosystem, not just pockets of the population. To bring change, you must communicate effectively with multiple audiences, understanding what they care about and how best to connect with them.
Internally, the focus is not just on your employees, but also on your fellow leaders, managers, executives and stakeholders. Externally, you’re speaking to your customers and partners of course, but you also want to make your voice heard by the rest of your industry, competitors, collaborators and the public, as many of them are potential consumers or employees.
Innovation is also about constant active listening and is impossible without an inclusive dialogue. If you don’t listen, you’ll never understand what problems your customers, employees and partners have that you can solve with innovation.
Communicate or get left behind.
Despite all the above, open avenues of communication and transparency are lacking in most companies, causing employees to lose focus and disengage, executives to discard innovation as a trend and the public to lose interest in your efforts. Clear, consistent communication is rare, and normally focuses on messaging, not listening.
Ironically, investment in communications is generally the last priority in many innovation teams or programs. Leaders pour money into hardware, software and engineering capabilities, basically anything but communications. The irony is undeniable: Given the pace of technology, many technical skills will be obsolete within a few years, but leaders are happy to fund their development. Communication skills and shared institutional knowledge, however, will stay with employees throughout the rest of their careers, benefitting all.
As a leader, you must understand the importance of communication and fund it properly. Your vision, strategy, plan and metrics must then be communicated both internally and externally. Your goal is to demonstrate the value you are generating and how your organization is capturing that value to help employees, customers, partners and the public.
As you consider how your organization will shape the future, don’t forget to communicate, communicate, communicate.