We all know that innovation initiatives are born in the C-suite, but they’re executed by the leaders in the middle. We asked Lori Sharp, vice president at Sabre Airline Solutions, what it takes to execute on those innovation mandates from the C-suite.
Q. What are the hotspots a leader has to consider when tasked with executing an innovation mandate?
Lori Sharp: It comes down to two things, really. One is buy-in from the top. If your executives at the top don’t believe in it and support the innovation, then executing is a lot tougher. The second is making sure you work across the areas that are affected to gain their buy-in. Unfortunately, some people tend to feel as though you’re entering their territory; they like the way things are and are resistant to change. However, when you take the time to explain the approach and invite them to be a part of the process, executing becomes a whole lot easier.
Q. How do you fight against corporate gravity—the tendency of enterprises to pull back, which can keep innovation from taking flight?
Sharp: You have to work with those members who are fighting against it. You have to take time with them to hear their ideas, incorporate their ideas, and gain alignment. You have to make the effort to get people aligned, but it pays off.
Q. How do you get your team to embrace the innovation mandate, so they carry forth the vision as their own?
Sharp: As with members of the C-suite, sell the idea, get them to participate, and incorporate their ideas into the innovation. People relish the opportunity to provide input and see something they were a part of come to fruition.
Q. In the context of innovation, how do you manage up?
Sharp: I often set up meetings to provide a status update, or progress report. Also, follow through, follow through, follow through—so they see that what they bought into is really taking flight.
Q. How do you sustain a culture of innovation? What works?
Sharp: Provide a freethinking environment. Encourage people to come up with ideas, processes, etc. When you have a leader who is either “my way or no way,” or constantly squelching ideas, you suffocate innovation. As I said earlier, people relish the opportunity to provide input. If their ideas are not implemented, take the time to explain why. Maybe there are other innovative priorities to focus on first. Don’t just say “no.”
Q. What are some of the most surprising outcomes you’ve experienced as a result of innovation execution?
Sharp: When you get an innovative idea accepted, and when you make significant progress, it’s watching those folks who contributed shine and become even more creative. If you provide the right environment and give people time to do innovative things, it is amazing to watch them blossom and become outstanding leaders.