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White Room

A Place Where Innovation Can Live

How often have you heard the word innovation this week in your various engagements?


While leaders are at different stages of innovation, every leader, regardless of industry, is facing the need to change and discover creative solutions to many of the challenges we face in our positions. Yet, do we embrace that innovation is more than dreaming and brainstorming; it requires investment, commitment, courage, and consistency to support the ideation, start-up messiness, setbacks, failure, the risk tolerance required, and all that comes with embracing innovation as more than feel-good dreaming and brainstorming exercises with colorful post-it notes and a whiteboard. Innovation is a journey.


Recently, I had the opportunity to spend the day facilitating the Henrico County’s County Managers’ 2nd Annual Emerging Leaders Retreat.  The session focused on leading change and innovation with over 180 Henrico County leaders. We discussed various stages of innovation—how to operationalize it, invest in it, and what it takes to lead it. Together, we went on a leadership adventure. This experience was truly a team effort curated in partnership with Deputy County Manager Monica Callahan, Human Resources (Yvette George, Shari Bennett Speer, Kim Schenk) and Public Relations (Victoria Davis), coupled with the visionary leadership of County Manager John Vithoulkas, exemplified what it means to create the right conditions for innovation to thrive, grow, and be successful.


Here are ten (10) lessons I learned during the Henrico County Manager's Emerging Leaders Retreat about creating a culture and place for innovation to live:


1. Committed Leadership and a Compelling Vision

Innovation starts at the top. Leaders must fully commit to fostering an environment where new ideas can flourish. John's opening remarks at the County Manager's retreat were a masterclass in this. He emphasized that leadership involves not just supporting innovation but inviting all of the leaders gathered to be a part of living the innovation journey and sharing it with their teams.


2. People-Centered Approach and Cross-Functional Collaboration

Innovation is about people. The planning and discussions by the Henrico County leaders highlighted the importance of investing in and trusting the people and creating a culture where collaboration across functions is encouraged. When people feel trusted, valued, and included, they are more likely to contribute their best ideas.


3. Culture of Learning and Courage

A culture that embraces learning and sees failure as a stepping-stone to success is crucial. It takes courage to innovate, as it often involves venturing into the unknown and making tough decisions. Encouraging curiosity and learning helps in developing this courage.


4. Difficult Conversations and Care and Compassion

Innovation requires honest and sometimes difficult conversations. It also demands empathy and understanding. Balancing challenging discussions with compassion ensures that innovation efforts are sustainable and respectful of all stakeholders involved.


5. Consistency and Curiosity

Consistency is critical to long-term innovation. It doesn't happen overnight; it evolves over time. Curiosity drives this process, encouraging continuous exploration and questioning of the status quo.


Questions for Leaders Committed to Creating a Place for Innovation to Live

  1. How can you ensure your innovative strategies align with your core values and vision?

  2. What structures can you put in place to support and sustain innovation within your organization?

  3. How do you encourage and model a culture of learning and resilience in the face of failure?


Exercises on Creating a Place for Innovation to Live

  1. Values Alignment Workshop: Gather your team and list all the innovations or changes you wish to implement. Beside each, write down the core value it serves or enhances. This visual representation ensures that every innovative strategy aligns with the team's core values.

  2. Scenario Simulation: Identify a situation where the team is challenged to choose between an innovative approach and a core value. Discuss the potential outcomes of each choice. This exercise can create a deeper understanding and prioritization of values in decision-making.

  3. Innovation Storyboard: Ask your team to list down ten ideas. Instead of stacking them, sequence the ideas in a way that tells a compelling story of change.


Creating a place where innovation can live requires more than just sharing good ideas; it demands a structured, consistent approach grounded in strong leadership like that was on full display by the 180 leaders of Henrico County during the retreat, a people-centered culture, and a commitment to continuous learning and courage. By encouraging these conditions, we can ensure that innovation survives and thrives, driving meaningful and sustainable change in our organizations and communities


We would love to hear from you!

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