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THE INNOVATIVE MANAGER TODAY: Integrated human capital development and sustainable innovation

11. may 2021
A pandemic manager, a crisis manager, a digital manager, a distance manager – the different roles of managers that have been assigned to corporate governance and management in this recent period marked by the pandemic and all the associated measures that have had a deep impact on the business world. It is hard to imagine that innovative managers*, who strive for introducing innovations into the company and who generate innovations themselves, would prevail in this situation. But still.

Innovation remains an important lever for successful long-term development of business systems and one of the main sources for generating added value. And it is precisely this pandemic period that is hungry of innovation in the face of the changing global conditions. And, if there ever was a need to innovate, it is now – both within the organisation as well as vis-à-vis the market and external stakeholders. But how to innovate, how to introduce innovations into companies’ business processes, how to manage people to make them more creative in the conditions of this new reality? Regardless of all crisis situations and the changed modus operandi, the same directions that distinguish innovative managers of yesterday, today and tomorrow still apply. 

Human capital development

Creative thinking and innovative action are people-driven and human capital – a set of skills, knowledge and personal characteristics of individuals involved in innovation processes and co-creating innovations – is crucial to the innovation process. Human capital management requires mature innovative managers, who are themselves integrated personalities who are constantly evolving in order to effectively manage innovation processes, motivate and coordinate teams and who can also be creative and innovative themselves. A manager who wishes to promote innovation in their company, department, unit or organisation must understand the overall link between the various players in the system and be able to manage different levels – individuals, teams, and the company, as well as the market and society at large.

The main skills of individuals and the strength of inter-structural teams

Thus, in order to manage innovation effectively, innovative managers constantly engage in human capital, which means, first and foremost, understanding people, knowing oneself and one’s colleagues. They build themselves as an integrated personality who clearly recognises one’s own key competencies and values and continuously works on their own personal development

As a result, such managers are able to identify the capital of their employees or colleagues in terms of their abilities, talents, skills, values, and ambitions. It is only by understanding these attributes of their colleagues that they can manage human resources – create the right teams, which they direct, coordinate, motivate, and lead through the innovation process with effective communication. A good and perceptive manager recognises the key strengths of each member of the team and is able to make optimal use of their skills while also willing to organise so-called inter-structural teams composed of people with different skills, talents, and abilities, with different experiences, people of different ages, gender, from different cultures, etc. Only diverse team members can successfully challenge each other and seek innovative breakthroughs. 

Innovation as a value of businesses and the society

When it comes to innovation in a company or any organisation, it must be said that it is the organisation that provides the foundations for introducing innovation, the structure for implementing innovation processes. A company that recognises innovation as a source of generating added value will appreciate creativity and innovation as important values of organisational culture and will also form its strategic directions in line with innovation principles. It is the innovative manager who manages this structural capital and uses the right methods, tools and techniques to transfer it to the action level of individuals and teams, and, through their own example, strengthen the company’s innovation culture at all levels.

The role of an innovative manager is also to understand society at large, both the market in which the company generates added value and the environment in which it operates. The awareness of the company’s connections with different stakeholders and encouraging collaboration with and between them give the company even better opportunities for innovative breakthroughs and for strengthening innovation as a value in the wider society. In this context, the manager can also make use of open innovation, which involves bringing together external partners and stakeholders in the stages of the innovation process. 

Sustainable innovation 

Effective innovative management requires all four levels of innovation creation to be taken into account: the individual, the team, the company, and the society. And these principles also apply during this specific pandemic time, which indicates new trends but at the same time further exposes the longstanding problems associated with climate change and social inequalities. It is therefore all the more important to raise awareness of the need for sustainable innovation as a process in which sustainability elements (environmental, social, economic) are integrated into the whole system of an organisation. In other words, the sustainable philosophy is a part of the company’s structure, which the innovative manager must also integrate into the innovation process itself – in the stage of generating ideas, in research and development, in production, and in its market manifestation – commercialisation. And this sustainability should today be the fundamental attitude of an innovative manager. 

Let us conclude by emphasising that everything begins with people, with ourselves. The fact remains that innovative managers need to be able to manage themselves first, to understand their role in the company and to foster relationships with people within the company as well as externally, with the market, with the narrower and the wider community, and finally also with the whole planet. And only if the manager is an integrated person and a sustainable leader will they compose teams who will create sustainable innovation for the sustainable development of society as a whole. 

*Speaking of innovative managers, we need to distinguish between two terms – the innovative and the innovation manager. In this respect, we are speaking of two different roles of managers, which can, however, come together in a single person. The person in the role of an innovation manager establishes the rules and conditions of the game, so that individuals and teams can create innovations as effectively as possible. The person in the role of an innovative manager is themselves innovative and able to observe the stakeholders and the situation within the organisation at all times and to identify the opportunities for new business models, new ways of efficient processes, new work methods, etc. (Bulc, Lah Poljak, 2018). For the purposes of this article, the term innovative manager covers both roles together.

Source: Bulc, V. and Lah Poljak, E. (2018): Manual for the Innovation and Innovative Management course (internal material) DOBA Business School Maribor.

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