Innovate to create: why innovation is set to be critical to developing our future leaders

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Shaun Lynn, CEO of Agilitas

Innovation is a word that in the mind of many is associated with the future. As a CEO myself, innovating for the future is a critical part of my business’s growth strategy. As leaders we are all regularly reminded of the inherent need to change strategies and be open to new ideas. However, one area critical to the future is always going to be leadership. In the technology industry in particular we regularly discuss the perils and challenges posed by the skills gap, which if we fail to close, could leave us with a leadership vacuum for the next generation.

 Making a Change

Particularly in the area Agilitas operates in, the IT channel, innovation and people are intrinsically linked. Essential change is driven by intelligent and creative people who are leaders in their sectors. As a result, creating the right environment for innovation to be developed, fostered and harnessed is going to be essential to securing the technology leaders of the future.

The most forward thinking companies are already putting mechanisms in place and running initiatives to harness skills and abilities. Research by Harvard Business School in its 2016 State of Leadership Report revealed the vast majority of businesses have leadership development programmes in place, however worryingly just seven percent characterised their programmes as ‘best in class’.

Skills Gaps

The skills gap is estimated to cost UK businesses a significant £2.2 billion per year in higher salaries, recruitment costs and temporary staffing, according to The Open University. Solving the gap, particularly in technology, however is not simply about education. Government efforts, whilst helpful, have focused on the next generation, encouraging schools, universities and students to provide the skilled digital innovators of the future. It is however the responsibility of existing businesses and employers to fill as many gaps as possible today.

This will however, only be achieved and delivered by focusing on upskilling both existing staff and encouraging wide scale training and development throughout organisations. By building on existing skillsets – we will not only be able to assemble a highly skilled workforce but also provide the critical foundation of innovation and leadership that is required to flourish in a digital workplace.

At Agilitas we’ve directly seen the benefits that come from developing staff. Providing individuals with the confidence to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities through regular skills development results in much more productive and motivated teams. Research by Deloitte has proven that productivity can be increased by as much as 14 percent as a result of higher levels of engagement, meaning businesses can deliver services 26 percent faster. Regular training combined with intelligent hiring are at the core of our strategy.

Positively in the IT channel, Agilitas research has revealed 41 percent of those making hiring decisions do so based on demand for innovation. Furthermore 39 percent aim to encourage innovation by hiring creative staff. There is of course though going to be far more to creating a future generation of successful leaders than simply hiring creative thinkers. Organisations need to provide the environment, and critically the means and spaces for future leaders to develop and grow.

Finding Free Time

Google’s well publicised 20 percent rule, whereby employees are encouraged to dedicate a fifth of their time to their own projects, is an interesting concept. The most famous success of the scheme is Google Maps, now a core part of the company’s global operation.

Understandably for many businesses, allowing teams to dedicate such a large amount of time to non-essential work is not going to be practical, however there are some clear merits in the scheme that should be considered, particularly in the channel where innovation is key to ensuring customer retention. Impressively, 39% of the channel leaders we surveyed encourage their staff to spend time working on their own projects.

Ultimately, fostering future leadership is a challenge all businesses face. A leadership deficit, or one that lacks an ability to innovate must be avoided at all costs. Encouraging creativity, new ideas and skills development will be essential to driving the next generation of channel leaders. As industries continue to grapple with the challenges posed by the skills gap and a turbulent economic climate, the term ‘innovate to create’ could not be more relevant.

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