To tackle the plethora of challenges in today’s business environment, organizations are constantly seeking new ways to gain a competitive edge — and most see innovation as essential for doing it. Dr. Arvind Malhotra, the lead professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s online MBA program, says a focus on innovation is key: “Innovation … enables a company to gain a significant competitive advantage — thereby generating abnormal profits and stakeholder value over the long run.”

Putting innovation to work takes a focused approach — and here are six strategies that top leaders use to do it:

  • Nurture collaboration. When nurtured toward its full potential, collaboration boosts effectiveness — which is essential for creating innovation that can have an impact. Build a mindset in your organization in which teamwork is not only supported, but also expected. In addition, it’s important to understand what individual needs team members have and provide the resources to help them work together.
  • Question and discard as needed. Questioning everything sets a tone that will help others do the same. It’s only with ongoing evaluation that you’ll be able to identify the broken processes that need an overhaul — especially if the cultural norms in your organization hinder your ability to push for better results.
  • Embrace what-if. Give your team the freedom to flex their creative muscles and step outside the box as needed. Surprise them with your willingness to explore untested possibilities with a mindset that’s open to new ideas. Taking such an approach will help you access the wide array of skills and expertise that team members bring to the table — typically across multiple generations.
  • Encourage disruption. Doing the same-old-tired-thing will lead to the same-old-tired-results. Shake things up a bit by deviating from the status quo and encouraging your team to embrace a level of disruption that will lead to effective change. If everyone isn’t a little nervous about their efforts, they’re probably not pushing themselves — or you — enough to really tap into innovation at its best.
  • Be steadfast with skeptics. These are typically the individuals who prefer to have their feet on solid ground and find great comfort in the status quo. Maintain a respectful but firm stance that’s grounded in the facts as you stick to the ideals that motivate you — and help your team to do the same.
  • Make it meaningful. Too many are lured by the bright and shiny when it comes to innovation — but what really counts is the ability to create change that’s actually meaningful and creates value for customers. Make meaningful change the “why” that drives both you and your team — and help others in your organization see what real innovation should be about.

To help your organization gain a competitive edge, you’ll need to put innovation to work. By focusing on these six strategies that top leaders use, you’ll better support an innovative mindset within your organization that leads to success.