Mobile broadband’s new innovation leaders

Which new leadership skills will unlock profitability for mobile broadband operators who face a ‘perfect storm’ of complexity?

What you’ll learn

In this exclusive interview, Insight talks to Jean Gomes, New York Times bestselling author and innovation coach to leaders at Telefonica, eBay, Google, Sony, Microsoft and Toyota.  Gomes describes the four crucial leadership skills that will maximize innovation performance inside the mobile broadband industry:

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  • ‘Sparking’ an innovation attitude amongst employees

  • Equipping people with proven innovation techniques and approaches

  • Fuelling innovation performance with smart, new ways of working

  • Measuring innovation with the metrics that matter most

Rapid industry disruption has created a ‘perfect storm’ of complexity inside mobile broadband operators.  There can be few other industries where leaders face such extreme uncertainty on all fronts.

According to innovation leadership coach, Jean Gomes, there is only one antidote: “An absence of clear answers needs a culture of smart questions,” he says.  “The best leaders are those who liberate employees to rapidly explore creative solutions to complex questions.  In most organizations that means leaders need to embrace new skills that allow them to thrive amidst ambiguity and uncertainty.”

Gomes believes that the outstanding innovation leaders of tomorrow will need to master four new capabilities: Sparking, equipping, fuelling and measuring innovation.

Sparking innovation

“The starting point is for leaders to create an innovation mindset at every level of the organization,” says Gomes. “Without that spark, research shows that you risk having up to 90% of new initiatives fail.”

According to Gomes, ‘sparking’ involves engaging employees at three crucial levels:

Spark 1: “We should innovate!”

“People need to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ about innovation,” says Gomes.  “Why does it matter to the organization?  What are the consequences of not acting?  What happens next?  How does  it affect my day-to-day work?

“Leaders tend to assume that when people have ‘read the memo’ about a new strategy, they will automatically implement it,” Gomes continues.  “In most cultures that doesn’t happen.  You need to allow people to interrogate it and resolve it in their own minds.  It takes a little more time and effort from executives but it pays dividends.”

Spark 2. “I should innovate!”

When asking employees to support innovation initiatives, they need to believe that leaders and managers truly value it.  If they don’t, says Gomes, they are unlikely to engage. “Innovation inevitably involves a degree of personal risk, vulnerability and potential failure.  Unless leaders demonstrate that they will support employees through that process, few employees will fully engage with innovation programmes.”

The leadership of Bharti Airtel Limited, the largest telecom service provider in India, demonstrated this with its decision to be the first operator to outsource its network and focus instead on its strengths: branding, identifying customer pain points and people management.

When the leadership team announced their radical vision, they toured the company’s offices to communicate their passion and commitment.  The energy and belief that it sparked amongst employees led to further innovations such as Music Bharti whichwent on to become India’s largest music company.

Spark 3. “I can innovate!”

According to Gomes, when asking people to innovate, a common objection is “I can’t – I’m just not a creative person.” 

“The truth is that everyone innovates all the time,” explains Gomes, “they just call it something else, like problem-solving.  The key is helping people to see that innovation is not just about creativity, which is the usual misconception.  As soon as people realize that innovation is an entire process that requires skills that they possess, they generally engage.”

BT’s former Chief Innovation Officer agrees: “In the long term, the real difference between winners and losers is a focus on gaining, nurturing, and unleashing the key skills that allow smart ideas and people to thrive’” says Paul Excell, who now leads innovation accelerator ie2.



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