The success of any business today is reliant on not only outstanding products and services, innovative marketing, well-oiled sales channels and flawless, customer-focused operations. These are not optional; rather they are essential elements for business success. But what makes the difference between future industry leaders and those back in the pack? Innovation. Leading for innovation is critical for success today, tomorrow and in the years ahead.
Engage all employees and their ideas.
Even though companies have been espousing this idea since the invention of the "suggestion box" few companies really take this principle seriously or use it effectively. There need to be easy ways for all employees (plus suppliers and customers) to provide ideas. The ideas need to be reviewed in a timely manner and feedback needs to be provided to those who provide the ideas. This can not be a short term "program" or project but an on-going process which becomes part of the way of doing business.
Strategic and business planning are central to any effective corporation, business or other organization. Unfortunately, many get caught up in the process (annual) rather than using it as an on-going opportunity for bubbling up new ideas and integrating them into the short and long term product and financial plans for the business. Planning should not just be about products, sales, revenue, costs and expense by period, but rather it should be about monetizing ideas and place resources against those ideas which are going to generate the most sales and create the most efficiencies.
Rewarding risk taking while rewarding success.
Many companies have recognition programs from trophies, to certificates to financial incentives for contributions to the success of the business. Frankly, the type of award, reward or recognition is less important than the fact that it is done. Companies are quick to award sales success for closing the big deal and exceeding revenue quota. It is equally important for companies to find ways to reward the contribution of ideas to the front-end of the process. The ideas which evolve into new products, services and improved operations must result in recognition for the individuals and teams who contribute them.
Challenge how it's done today.
Now matter how anything is done today it can be done better – whichever faster, with less costs, with more quality, with greater revenue contribution or in other ways better achieve to goals and objectives of the business – not matter how challenging they may appear.
Making communication easy.
The most innovative companies communicate often and easily. They communicate from above. They communicate across. They encourage their customers and suppliers to communicate about what is working and more importantly what is not working. And they make it easy to communicate from the trenches to the top. Whether face-to-face, by e-mail, blogs, letters, IM, telephone or other means, communications is essential to innovation. But it only begins with receiving the message regardless of the means of communication.
More bottoms up from top down.
Innovative companies are not driven from the top down. They are driven by their customers and those front line employees who deal with the customers day-to-day. While R & D is essential, customers may express their real needs and line employees may see inefficiencies before they are ever raised through a formal scientific process or formal efficiency task force produce their reports.
Time is the enemy.
When fighting a war, every single day counts. This has fact has been recognized by warrior-generals going back to the earliest conflicts and continuing on to high tech battlefields. The same holds true in business. The longer an idea for a new product or service or a process improvement is analyzed by working and leadership committees, the less likely they will provide a positive, competitive business impact. Once an idea or recommendation has been submitted – especially by customer or a front-line employee, the clock is ticking. A timely evaluation, development and implementation process is needed to insure they are screened and action is taken while the idea still has its "punch".
The best ideas do not come from your town. Or your state. Or even your country. There is a whole world go great ideas out there. Tap into them globally. Even if your company is not yet global, ideas for new products, services and better ways of doing thing can come from sources Memphis to Singapore not just the office conference room and the corporate planning retreat.
New employees, whether fresh from college or from another employer are a great source of innovation (we are not recommending stealing proprietary information or intellectual property). And at the same time, employees who have performed the same function year-after-years may be deducted as not have an original idea. Nonsense! New employees, long tenure employees and all in between need to be free to offer up ideas and recommendations. And all ideas and recommendations need to be taken equally seriously regardless of the source.
By applying all of these concepts, any corporation, business or other organization can thrive. There is no such thing as too many ideas or too much innovation. The business imperative is to create a culture built on ideas and to vet the implement those ideas with velocity. Not every idea will be successful. But may and that will make all the difference in the marketplace.