By Michael G. McGowan, Managing Director & Practice Leader, Leadership & Talent, BPI group

The dizzying pace of digital technology is driving seismic shifts in the global marketplace, demanding that companies and their people become innovation experts just to keep up. In today’s workplaces, the status quo is a recipe for stagnation. To attract and retain talent, and to stay ahead of the curve, companies must embrace disruption, and change early and often.

Innovation doesn’t come naturally to everyone in the talent pool. Fortunately, it can be taught.

BPI group recently worked with a leading technology brand that was highly successful in the 20th century. To the admission of its executives, however, the brand had lost its innovation luster and mindset primarily because of the rise of disruptive competitors. As a result, the company struggled to foster an innovation-based culture and launch new products that would gain traction with customers. To rebuild an innovative culture and mindset within its workforce, the company sought an action learning leadership development program for cohorts of high-potential senior managers across different functions (i.e., engineering, marketing, finance, IT).

BPI group developed an online technology platform on which the innovation curriculum resided. Throughout the five-month program, participants took a series of online modules that gave them digital badges/certifications in innovation and leadership. The program included a mentoring program and one-on-one coaching. The key to the program was the action learning project.  Each team was expected to build business cases and innovative product prototypes that they presented to the executive team.

The program was very successful, resulting in some of the new product ideas receiving funding for further development and selection for the company’s product pipeline.  Within a year of their graduation from the program, a staggering 90 percent of participants were promoted within the organization.

This is just one example of how innovation can be effectively taught, learned and applied for the benefit of both an organization and its people. However, the lesson goes beyond the concept of innovation to a vital trait for today’s successful companies: agility.

Corporate agility is the ability to be nimble and flexible to anticipate and respond quickly to new opportunities and threats, which abound in today’s quickly changing digital and economic environment. Many large companies have trouble being nimble because they are risk-averse and hampered by traditional organizational hierarchies. While structure and rules are important, it’s worth examining how certain shifts in approach might create a more agile – and thus more innovative – organization.

For example, company leadership might examine how the organization’s structure, roles and responsibilities could be modified to increase focus on the highest-value activities. There may be new ways to streamline work processes to drive greater efficiency, effectiveness and communication. Finally, as outlined in the above example, companies should find ways to help their people build critical skills and capabilities, allowing them valuable professional development and career progression opportunities.

Learning is at the foundation of innovation, but innovation is not necessarily taught in school. It’s up to forward-thinking organizations to challenge the status quo by investing in their people’s knowledge, competencies, creativity and passion. The result may be just that: results.