What does innovation mean for the Middle East?

Written by
Miroslawa Kowalczuk

31 Aug 2016

31 Aug 2016 • by Miroslawa Kowalczuk

Reading The National recently, I came across from some wise words from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed who was opening the UAE Innovation Week: “Innovation is not an option, but a necessity. It is not a culture but work style, and governments and companies that do not innovate risk losing their competitiveness and falling far behind.”

I couldn’t agree more! Changes in the global environment today are all pervasive, increasingly complex and happening more quickly than ever before. Change and innovation will be the only way for businesses to survive in the competitive marketplace. It may not be the biggest that thrive, but the most adaptive. The words ‘We have always done it this way’ will become the six most expensive words in the world. They may cost your organisation the future.  

As we reflect on Innovation Week, it is the ideal time for a reality check. The Hay Group engagement database which includes information from around the world, is less than optimistic:

  • 44% of employees don’t rate their organisation highly for using new technologies and creative approaches to improve performance,
  • 37% don’t believe they are encouraged to take reasonable risks to try out new ideas and ways of working, and
  • 39% says that their companies are not innovative when it comes to developing new products and services.

We all know that innovation is important, so why is this happening? First, innovation can’t be implemented by administrative order. Why? Because innovation is a complex thing. Innovation is not only about fostering an individual’s creativity, but also about creating a culture that supports creativity, developing a high level of leadership, engaging staff to go the extra mile, and last, but not least – creating systems and tools that support innovation through a process and turning innovative ideas into practical, replicable solutions.

How do we do that?

  • Define what innovation means for your company and what’s  the gap between your current culture and that required for your goals
  • Innovation is everyone’s responsibility. To be an innovative company, it is not enough to simply introduce an R&D department.
  • Enable your staff – implement tools, systems and processes that support new idea testing and implementation. This requires education and training, to help your staff think differently. 
  • Create a culture that supports innovation and builds employee engagement. What are the characteristics of this culture? It empowers employees to come up with new ideas and enables them to get involved in implementing innovative projects. This culture promotes collaboration and risk taking. It  accepts that not everything will pay off in the short term.  
  • Prepare and develop leaders.  Our leaders are the ones that promote innovation on a daily basis. Hay Group’s research shows that there are certain leadership styles that foster a climate of innovation. Leaders of innovative teams communicate a clear vision and spell out what they expect from employees, setting challenging goals and constantly raising the bar. They coach their employees and then allow them the room to make mistakes on their own. Steps toward improvement and innovation are recognised and successes celebrated.

The most important of all these elements are the leaders. The best strategy in the world can fail if your leaders aren’t ready to implement them.

To understand if your leaders are ready to take your business into the future, you need to assess their leadership style. Understanding the climate they foster within their teams now will help you understand the behaviours they need to develop in order to create a culture of innovation for your future success.