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The 4-Step Path to Innovation

May 19, 2017


According to survey after survey, we are all struggling to build innovative, creative teams. According to a 2016 survey by Adecco Staffing USA, for example, 44% of executives said a lack of soft skills was the biggest proficiency gap they saw in the U.S. workforce. Another report, produced by the International Association of Administrative Professionals, OfficeTeam and HR.com, found that 67% of HR managers said they’d hire a candidate with strong soft skills even if his or her technical abilities were lacking, while just 9% would hire someone with strong technical credentials but weak soft skills.

We’re searching for candidates with these skills. But how much training are we providing to our current staff members to develop soft skills?  Unfortunately, not much. 

There is a prevailing theory that soft skills are hard, if not impossible, to teach. But this just isn’t the case. As followers of this blog know, soft skills are just that - skills. And just like other skills, they need to be learned and practiced. Research has found that only 30% of our ability to innovate comes from our genetics. Even those who are blessed to be born with natural ability need to learn and practice to be proficient innovators.

As leaders, it is part of our job to provide development opportunities for our staff. Too often, though, we focus these efforts on hard skills such as public speaking or SEO and ignore development opportunities for soft skills.

What can we do to help our teams develop their soft skills and become proficient at innovation?

Step #1: Talk 

Explain to the team what we're trying to achieve and why. This may sound simple but it is the step most often overlooked because, in our excitement, we jump ahead to implementation. Most importantly, dispel the myths that innovation is something only a lucky few are born with and that innovation is something that just happens. (For more on the myths of innovation, see post “Is Your Organization Among the 6%?”)

Step #2: Model 

The best way to teach a new skill is to model that skill in our own behavior. Make a habit of questioning our own assumptions and displaying “active curiosity” in front of the team. Create an environment that embraces smart risk.  If we put our own innovation practice on display, then the team will feel more comfortable displaying theirs.

Step #3: Encourage 

Innovation means risk and risk is often intimidating. Innovation also means asking ‘why’ and ‘what if.’ Team members unaccustomed to this approach can misinterpret these questions as attack rather than inspiration. As we move along the path to innovation, we should intentionally create opportunities for the team to explore innovation and creativity together. Simple things like bringing in pizza or more focused events such as going offsite. These opportunities allow us to praise the conversation and reward collaboration and constructive dialogue. With encouragement, innovation will take on a life of its own within our team.

Step #4: Celebrate 

Most important, don’t forget to celebrate successes often and loudly!

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