With technology rapidly changing how we do business, you’d be forgiven for losing sight of the essential role you and your team play in the digital age.  Let’s explore why technology needs to be combined with human experience and expertise to do its job properly, and as a leader what you can do to foster a culture of innovation.

Drawing from takeaways from a recent interview with Dr Linda Hill, researcher, author and chair of the Leadership Initiative at Harvard Business School where she talked about Leading with Purpose in the Digital Age, it doesn’t matter how powerful your technology, or how smart AI (artificial intelligence) is, if you rely on it without partnering it with human experience and expertise, there is a risk to your business or organisation.

Businesses NEED leaders and teams to

  • question the technology
  • question decision-making and
  • question the data driving it

if meaningful innovation is to occur and for digital transformation to serve your purpose.

You only need look at examples in the finance industry where algorithms without the right guardrails have resulted in big consequential ‘stuff’, or even something as simple as a rogue formula in Excel that digs you into a hole that is difficult (and expensive!) to climb out of.

Organisations need people on the front line and throughout the organisation to be their eyes and ears and identify when things just don’t work properly or don’t make sense.  In many ways, it’s your people that are your safeguard against the tail wagging the dog or, in other words, technology and data leading your organisation rather than you.

So, as a leader what can you do to foster an innovation culture and have your people join you in making the most of technology?

Understand the impact of your focus

If you are like many business leaders, ‘vision’ may no longer provide the guiding light you require in an environment where innovation and discovery is happening, i.e. you may not yet know what the thing you’re shooting for is, or it may not even exist yet.

Instead many leaders are focusing on purpose and the problem they’re solving.  This allows the business or organisation, and your team, to be more agile and flexible.

Recognise the difference between leading change and leading innovation

Dr Hill talks about leading change and leading innovation as two distinctly different approaches.  An innovation culture requires effective collaboration and “co-creation” by teams with diverse ideas and perspectives.

For this to happen, leaders need to demonstrate emotional intelligence, be self-aware, and build strong and trusted relationships where diverse opinions and expertise are welcomed.  It is these interpersonal skills that will allow leaders to help teams navigate uncertainty and be innovative.

Dispel the myth that innovators have to be technical people

Leaders need to help each team member understand that innovation comes in many forms, including on the front line where some of the most relevant feedback and observations about processes and where technology is working – and where it is not! – can be provided.

Employees need to know they have a valued role in the collaborative process, where questioning the status quo and putting forward suggestions is encouraged, looking at their function and cross-function needs.

Here at Rapport Leadership, for instance, we are often brought in by businesses and organisations to help leaders and teams get aligned with their purpose, and build skills that improve collaboration, communication and innovation.

Separate technology from digital transformation

As a leader, try to resist getting caught up in how lightning fast and whizz bang the technology is, and instead consider digital transformation as being more about the applying and impact, how well the full capabilities are used, and ultimately how effective it is in the context of your greater purpose.

Be a data-informed rather than a data-driven organisation

Most would agree that data is only ever as good as the inputs and programming, and interpretation of data is an art in itself.  Data is a decision-making tool which alone should not be trusted with driving your organisation.

However, when you put data, experience and expertise together, that is when creativity, innovation and effective decision-making appear.

We will be delving into business leadership in the digital age again in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, if you would like to discuss ways we can help you develop the skills needed to build an innovation culture and improve collaboration, get in touch today.

(Interview with Dr Linda Hill link here.)

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