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Who are the leading champions of cultural change for innovation?

This article is based on knowledge insights by Jaap Boonstra

In their latest book, Liderança e cultura organizacional para inovação, Esade Visiting Professor Jaap Boonstra and his research colleague João Brillo reveal how successful organisations implement innovation and what sets of mindsets and skills innovative leaders have in common.

Who are the leading champions of cultural change for innovation? It's not just top and mid-level managers. Professionals and specialists also frequently assume leadership roles in these processes.

Innovative leaders are prepared to take risks

In all cases, they are people who follow their ambition and genuinely feel that things can be done differently and better. They believe that making an effort to change is worthwhile and they are prepared to take risks.

Successful leaders of organisational change for innovation work on change and innovation from a position of commitment and personal motivation.

The authors highlight seven fundamental mindsets of these champions of cultural change for innovation.

1. Strategic mindset

Cultural change involves playing with meanings. When situations are uncertain, people look for information and meaning to be able to interpret the situation. The meaning gives colour to the situation and direction to behaviour. If the continued existence of a company is at stake, uncertainty is generated, which can sometimes have a paralysing effect. 

Innovative leaders believe that making an effort to change is worthwhile

People who take the initiative in such cases – interpreting the situation and showing the way forward – offer a new perspective on the existing situation and the future. That is how they inspire others to join them on that course and seize the new future. It's about people who make a difference in uncertain situations and are capable of imagining the future.

2. Political mindset

Many stakeholders are active in and around organisations. Shareholders are important for financial continuity and loyal customers are essential for the stability and sustainability of business organisations. 

Competitors, new entrants and substitutes may threaten existing business models and challenge innovations. Politicians and their political advisors influence business by expressing their opinion and developing new laws and rules...

To prepare a business for the future, it is essential to consider the stakeholders that influence the existence of the organisation. Internal player groups also contribute to the dynamics inside the organisation.

Transformational leaders visualise the future

3. Transformational mindset

Leaders of cultural change foster innovations by formulating a challenging vision, which they then use to motivate others. To achieve cultural change, they form vital coalitions of people who want to play a leading role in that vision and create innovative teams that challenge existing business concepts.

Transformational leaders visualise the future. This vision reflects the meaning of the organisation and makes clear what the organisation represents and aims for.

The strength of the business is also discernible from the vision. A motivating vision appeals to people's need to be proud of their work and describes the organisation's meaning for its customers and society.

4. Appreciative mindset

Leaders of cultural change for innovation are aware of the past and acknowledge the contributions of their predecessors. They know how to value others for what they contribute to the company. They involve others in the cultural change, they provide space for emotions and they are honest in telling what the change means for the people in the company.

Innovative leaders appreciate difference and build on trust

Initiators of cultural change for innovation build on trust and appreciate difference because differences can be a source of renewal and innovation. Innovative leaders appreciate difference, build on trust and use conflicts to open a dialogue about the company's cultural values.

5. Experiential mindset

This mindset is about experimenting with renewal, making results visible, accepting and learning from mistakes and sharing rich experiences. In every organization, people learn from critical events and mistakes.

These learning experiences shape the organisation's culture because in these kinds of situations people learn how they have to deal with unexpected events.

The idea behind this is that people in learning organisations are curious and willing to experiment. Experimenting and learning means that people of different backgrounds are prepared to share their knowledge and welcome each other's success.

People in learning organisations are curious and willing to experiment

6. Action mindset

Innovation without active implementation is a daydream. Implementation without a strategic view of innovation is a nightmare. Leaders of cultural changes and innovations have an action orientation as well. They want to achieve results and are committed to realising profound changes. 

Action-mindset leaders are committed to realising profound changes

People who take the initiative to change their organisation will find that many interventions are available. Interventions are the tools on an exciting journey – the necessary activities to realise an ambition. The art lies in arriving at a consistent combination of interventions and developing an action plan that match the reason for the change and the overarching change strategy to realise renewal or innovation.

7. Reflective mindset

Leaders of cultural change for innovation are aware of developments in the surrounding environment and know what is happening in the organisation. They know themselves and study others in depth. They use this awareness to direct the energy of the organisation's people and to perform innovation. 

During cultural change for innovation, tensions are obvious and a part of the game. Curiosity helps to discover the unwritten rules of the game and the underlying dynamics that guide behaviour. Profound change puts the existing values, habits and forms of conduct under pressure, and tensions and conflicts can arise from this.

This article is based on knowledge insights published in the book Liderança e cultura organizacional para inovação.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.