“Innovation… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” – Steve Jobs, Fortune, Nov. 9, 1998
When Steve Jobs died earlier this year, we lost more than a great thinker. We lost a pioneer in the sphere of leadership, for as much as he left behind a legacy of technological innovation, he also left us with a legacy of innovative management.
Mr. Jobs didn’t just lead with an eye on the numbers, though he was, inarguably, wildly successful when it came to that. Instead, he measured value in his own leadership strength and the contributions of his staff. Looking beyond the bottom line, he sought innovation, not just in the products Apple produced but in the way he and his team, from the C-suite to the sales floor, approached their products and their customers.
When we look at leadership from this perspective, we unlock the ability to examine business in ways we’ve never before considered. After all, to be a pioneer, it’s not necessary for one to have invented “the next great thing” in personal technology, but simply to have found a novel way—an innovative way—of accomplishing one’s goals, and then some.
Explore new frontiers. Don’t get land-locked by only focusing on your direct competitors as a measure of success. If your company manufacturers women’s clothing, benchmark against those that manufacture footwear, menswear, and even furniture. In the process, you may discover business approaches that were never before considered. Once thought to be a tool just for struggling companies, today’s benchmarking focus points have shifted from line item cost cutting to such intangibles as technological investments, quality of personnel, and creating a staff-wide culture to encourage a work ethic that is not focused on working harder, but smarter.
By investigating these methods, both locally and on a global scale, many companies have been able to develop innovative strategies and compete in more markets than ever before. Many have found techniques that bring better operations and financial performance. These are among the tools necessary to achieve world class practices and results.
When considering an innovative approach to leading your team, look at key performance indicators (“KPIs”), the critical factors that help assess the present situation and performance and aid in prescribing a future course of action. KPIs can be divided into four categories:
- People, which includes measures taken to enhance employee engagement, such as turnover, safety, succession planning, and employee effectiveness;
- Collaboration, an indication of the KPIs focused on improving collaboration and the flow of information, including shareholder communications, knowledge sharing, problem solving, and consensus building;
- Broad Organizational, which help define the organization’s future direction and includes goal achievement, key processes, change management, and evaluation and assessment; and
- Professional Success, which indicate the power, influence, and knowledge of the leader.
Great leaders know that to be successful, they need to build an organization filled with talented and passionate people. They need to stick to their high standards of excellence when recruiting and find ways to motivate and bring the best out in their employees. This makes the human resources function—a seemingly intangible initiative with an undeniably great organizational impact—a critical KPI for most companies examining their success.
“Great leaders know that to be successful, they need to build an organization filled with talented and passionate people.”
Innovative leadership requires that we foster creative thinking from our employees. Encouraging the design and development of new products and processes not only ignites a sense of worth and purpose, it can also have significant financial benefits, including Federal and state tax credits, for the sponsoring organization. Qualifying expenses for these benefits may include salaries, equipment, materials, prototypes, and the cost associated with protecting proprietary knowledge and design.
For example, one large apparel company specializing in product planning, design, and screen printing, recently took advantage of an R&D credit that amounted to more than $800,000 in tax savings by filing amended tax returns to include design projects that reflected the development of a high-performance “technical” fabric. The resulting savings not only allowed for the purchase of new equipment and the hiring of additional staff, it also laid the groundwork for thousands of dollars in additional tax savings in subsequent years.
Innovation comes in many forms and can help an organization to achieve many goals: to obtain an intimate, pragmatic look at the competition, to encourage employee productivity, and to achieve significant bottom line results. Getting there is a journey, sometimes through unchartered territory. It requires courage, fresh eyes, and the support and cultivated enthusiasm of those around us.