According to a recent study, roughly 70 percent of U.S. freshmen said reputation was “very important” in their choice of college. Perhaps most intriguing, that figure is the highest it has been since UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute began conducting the study in 1967. But how can colleges and universities improve their reputations and, by extension, attract top students? One way: higher education innovation leadership.

It’s a frequently sought goal, and one many organizations, unfortunately, struggle to reach. In a recent survey conducted by IDC on behalf of Ricoh, it was found that while 70 percent of respondents thought their organizations were innovative, only 14 percent actually were upon further review. “Innovation” is such a broad term, it can be hard to pin down how best to pursue it. In my work with colleges and universities, I’ve found three strategies that can help drive innovation at your institution.

1. Invest in blue sky projects

You don’t become a leader by doing what everybody else does. When people you trust come to you with outside-the-box ideas to accomplish bold goals or address problems you may not have known you had, don’t let the well-worn path of familiarity keep you from reaching new heights.

For example, I was recently working with a large, prestigious university, the administration of which was just as involved as you may expect. Faculty, staff, administrators – everyone – had a lot on their plate. But when my team told them their big opportunity for change, both in terms of improving student perception of the university and in terms of driving cost savings, was a mailroom overhaul, they were a little skeptical. But the fact was, student package volume had been increasing 20 percent annually, meaning the mailroom was a huge part of the student experience, and it was only getting bigger. By working together – and, yes, with some upfront investment – we were able to drop wait times during peak times from 40-plus minutes to less than 3. That kind of difference doesn’t go unnoticed.

While these kinds of investments can be scary, and following through on them can be incredibly stressful, they are worth it. Innovation, by definition, means trying things that haven’t been tried. Prepare to meet resistance and to feel uncomfortable, but have confidence in your vision and push through. Leaders lead from the front of the pack, not the middle.

2. Create culture, tools and process that encourage innovation

While innovation necessarily involves going off the beaten path, that doesn’t have to mean “winging it.” By putting a process in place to develop and adopt innovations, you aren’t just encouraging innovation; you are providing your best and brightest with the means to innovate. Work with your top innovators and other experts to hone your process and select the tools that best suit your goals.

My colleague Elisa Esposito recently discussed undertaking a similar goal in transforming teaching support centers into innovation incubators. By putting these tools and processes in place, you begin to foster a culture of innovation as big thinkers feel their contributions are supported and valued.

Culture goes beyond tools, though. Even as you enable your campus community members to innovate, be sure to empower them, too. Many of the best ideas start low in the administrative hierarchy, with some even coming from students. There’s no one place where all of the best, most successful ideas come from, so look everywhere and listen to everyone. Put your resources behind ideas you think can succeed, and watch the positive results – and positive attitudes – roll in.

3. Make frequent, small changes

You wouldn’t sail a ship without a rudder. Similarly, once you’ve charted your course for innovation, you should make sure you’re able to course-correct as needed. One of the most exciting aspects of innovation is that things are always changing.

Successful organizations are always ready to adapt to meet the challenges of the day. Frequent self- or third-party assessment and adaptation help to ensure you’re always innovating.

Looking to embrace innovation – and the gains in reputation it can bring – at your college or university? Consider teaming with experts in the field with a proven track record.