“Without leadership, training, and rewards, innovation will not happen”. The Innovation Media Consulting Group just published their Innovation in Magazine Media 2016-2017 World Report. In the study, they talk about what it takes for successful innovation to happen in the media, a turbulent industry that was shacked up tremendously with the introduction of digitalization. Even though the report focuses on this particular industry, we believe the lessons and insights presented in this stduy apply any other kind of organisation going through a deep transformational process. Here are the key lessons:


1. The Leader’s commitment

“Nothing happens without the leader’s commitment”, says the study. One example it provides is from the American Press Institute (API) “Best Practices for Innovation” which reflect that innovation can’t happen unless the leaders of an organisation instigate change and experimentation, and create structures, a culture, and processes that encourage innovation to flourish.

Often we find leaders holding a staff meeting to declare that the company is committed to innovation, which is followed by them sitting back and waiting for things to happen. But a managing director cannot simply announce that the company will now be innovative. One has to walk the talk as well. “It’s just shouting empty words,” David Skok, Boston Globe digital advisor to the editor in chief, told Silverman. The leader must change the “structure or the tasks that people do to allow that (innovation) to happen,” David Skok, digital adviror to the Boston Globe, says.


2. Transformative leadership

Transformative leadership comes from a leader who engages employees by appealing to more intrinsic motivations such as autonomy, fulfilment, mastery, a sense of purpose, and a spirit of camaraderie at work.  Leaders who make it clear that innovation is in the self-interest of the staff acquire followers more quickly and more enthusiastically than asking staff to change for the sake of the company alone. Leaders can show that staffers who acquire the kinds of skills needed to advance innovation become better, more powerful, and ultimately more marketable people.


3. Culture is a key barrier to change

Transformative leadership also means changing the corporate culture, they have been found to be the key barrier to innovation and change.  “Culture is the ultimate source of most of the defensive mechanisms that block organisational change and prevent learning from occurring,” wrote “Lean Newsroom” co-author Jonathan Groves. To change the culture and enable innovative change, leaders must give their staff the resources and rewards they need.  Managers and staff must be empowered and recognised for innovation. Once a leader has made innovation a goal, the leader must then provide the training and support to give staff the skills and knowledge that make innovation possible. They should also provide the kind of verbal and financial rewards and recognitions that send a message to the rest of the staff.


4. Training removes fears

“The most successful leaders are usually ones balancing between pushing people to change but also, through providing training and support, are managing some of the anxiety that comes up around that,” co-author of “The Lean Newsroom” Carrie Brown says in the study. Without training and knowledge, even the greatest enthusiasts of innovation among the staff will be hesitant to try new ideas for fear of failure and embarrassment due to lack of skills. Training provided by the leader emboldens staff to put themselves and their reputations on the line.


5. Decide what NOT to do anymore

One of the next most important steps a leader can take to enable innovation is to decide what to stop doing, as simple as that. Without changing priorities and eliminating some work, staff will just see innovation as piling more work on top of their already overworked lives. They will insist they are just too busy doing their existing jobs to find time for innovation.

“The reason that’s important is that unless you stop doing those things [that aren’t core to your operation], you don’t have the time and space you need to try out new things and fail and figure out where to go next,” former vice president of journalism and media innovation for the Knight Foundation Michael Maness says.


6. Good leaders model innovative behaviour

Beyond the training, reorganisation, and elimination of non-core activities, leaders must also model innovation. A publisher or managing director without an active Twitter account or blog or Tumblr is sending a message to the staff that innovation is important for everyone else, but not for him or her. A leader must also go beyond the technological stuff and reinforce innovative initiatives every day.


7. Collaboration is a key to innovation success

In building an innovative culture and integrated operation, leaders must also enable and insist on collaboration between previously isolated silos or departments within the organisation.

“It’s really just a big issue around creating mutual trust and respect between teams,” Trei Brundrett, chief product officer of Vox Media said in the report. “If you’re working together it’s really about understanding where they are coming from and their background and where the hard work is, and what’s valuable that they bring to it. And when you do that, instead of getting the editorial team telling the product team what to build, what you have is people making things together, having ownership together and trusting each other. And much better things come out of that.”


8. Do NOT create separate entities for innovation

Do not create a separate innovation vice president or build an Innovation Lab. That just creates more silo effect and sends the message that innovation and creativity are not for everyone. Spread the responsibility) of innovation around so you can have many innovation champions. Leaders must turn over some of the leadership to the staff and managers. Every member of the company must feel they have ownership and the power to make decisions.


9. Give people ownership and power

“I’m a strong believer that performance management fundamentally is about giving people ownership over their own product and what it is that they’re trying to do,” Skok said. “The more you can own that product or feel that you have ownership over your ability to influence it, the more empowered you are to go forward and do things that may be innovative.” When that happens, innovation is no longer a topic for discussion or a goal. It just happens.  It becomes the new normal.


You can find the complete report here.