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The rapid pace of innovation is altering the environment in which Canadian companies conduct business and compete. While the cost of innovating is going down, disruption and competition are on the rise. Airbnb and Uber are two obvious examples of companies that are reimagining entire industries. Leaders across the business world need to adapt to this new era of innovation to better meet their customers' needs and identify new areas for growth.

Technology has increased the speed at which organizations need to adapt to, and produce results within an ever-shifting business landscape. This requires leading with purpose, transparency, and vision that inspires your employees to achieve greatness.

At Intuit Canada, we recently developed and brought an entirely new TurboTax product to market in eight months – something that would not have been possible just five years ago – and that process taught us a number of best practices for successfully navigating the exciting and tumultuous innovation era.

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Listen to your customers and put their needs first

Having a holistic view of your customers and providing them with agile, rapid service are both of paramount importance in the innovation era. To innovate and design for customer delight you need to ensure your team is empathetic to customers' needs, taking into account past experiences and interactions with your brand.

Keep an eye on what your competition is doing to advance their customer experience, and consider how their strengths and pitfalls can inform your approach.

Put mechanisms in place that push information to the forefront that you may not uncover on your own, and put mechanisms in place that allow you to stay close to your customers. For instance, prior to launching our new TurboTax Free product, we sat down with hundreds of customers to see how they interacted with it, and since launch we have continuously monitored its Net Promoter Score (a score provided by customers on their likelihood to recommend a product), and customer feedback to iterate and improve on the product benefits. Leverage the power of online communities and customer-generated content to truly understand their needs and desires. While developing new products or services, bring potential and current customers in throughout the journey to elicit their real-time feedback, and gain deeper insight into how you can provide them with additional value.

Be deliberate and thoughtful about the environment you create for your team

Building an effective talent mix and creating an atmosphere that spurs innovation requires conscious decision-making at all levels of your organization. Leaders should consider several factors when evaluating prospective employees, determining the best talent mix, and building and managing diverse teams. I believe an entrepreneurial spirit is a must; many hard skills can be taught, but the drive to challenge the status quo in the pursuit of better products and practices needs to come from within.

Innovating as a company requires flexibility, grit, and a certain level of comfort with ambiguity, so ensure you're seeking out employees who demonstrate adaptability to change. Organizing employees in small and nimble teams can enable swift and deep collaboration, but they should also be fluid and include employees who differ in their mix of hard and soft skills.

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Adapt to the changing nature of work

It's important to foster self-awareness within your organization when you have a diverse talent mix, and provide values-driven motivation. Encourage employees to be transparent about their working styles in order to develop harmonious and respectful working relationships, and collaborate efficiently.

Given today's rapidly changing business environment, you need to embrace the idea of a flexible work environment. By doing so, you'll attract people who are able to adapt to changing circumstances and are drawn to an innovative corporate culture. In fact, millennials are a great example of the changing nature of work; armed with entrepreneurial mindsets, they expect to change careers and companies more often than previous generations and many prefer to work on a contract basis in order to achieve diversity in their own work experience. As millennials are expected to make up nearly 75 per cent of the workforce by 2030, it's crucial that business leaders adapt to employees' shifting needs and priorities in the ever-evolving labour market.

To thrive in the innovation era, you need to become comfortable taking calculated risk and build an organization that can pivot to the opportunity. Make sure you have a proper plan in place before taking the plunge. Consult your trusted advisors and seek out experts who can guide you through the changes required for creating an environment that will drive innovation.

Jeff Cates is president and CEO of Intuit Canada.

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