In recent weeks I’ve talked to many business owners, partners, directors and mangers to try and gauge their confidence within their company and chosen sectors.
This has been a fascinating exercise which highlighted a number of interesting issues and quite a few common trends.
Following these discussions I’ve realised there is one area that I must highlight as a priority. There is a natural tendency for organisations to focus on costs, processes and efficiencies in times of recession and economic uncertainty at the risk of overlooking or mismanaging the search for innovation.
I too have evaluated in my business where cost savings can be made and how working smarter may deliver a better return on profits. The danger is that we become locked into a mindset that focuses on the internal mechanisms, processes and practices and don’t allow for the spark of innovation.
There are numerous examples of highly efficient CEO’s parachuted into struggling corporations to trim, tighten and improve the bottom line. When a business leader faces a change in the market, increased competition and potential threat to the customer base it can be comforting to fall back on tried and tested measures.
One such mechanism often used to great effect within process driven businesses is 6 Sigma. Originally developed by Motorola in the mid 80’s this set of clearly defined steps provides quantified financial targets for cost reduction and profit maximisation. I wish to stress that I am not anti Sigma as it has a demonstrable track record of success within many industries. The “Champions” of 6 Sigma or “Black Belts” become highly proficient in their roles constantly looking for the margin of improvement.
My concern, however, is that too many of the businesses I talked to have a 6 Sigma or equivalent focus on their business and bottom line. The long tail of our economic depression has resulted in looking inward for answers to survival rather than the “heads up” free innovative thinking that created the company.
Innovation should be a key part of every business but shouldn’t be confined to the measures and methods of 6 Sigma….some have tried this and it failed. You can measure innovation but as a process it should be allowed its opportunity to operate outside of conventional practices.
Creative thinking should also be within everyone’s job specification, not just the marketing and management staff. As humans we are naturally inquisitive and creative but often forget how to apply those aspects to our working days focussing instead on the tasks that need to be actioned but not allowing time for free thinking and putting forward ideas.
Encouraging innovation within a business is critical to its overall success and long term future, Apple, Starbucks, Red Bull and Dyson all place huge emphasis on the innovative core of their organisations and as a result reap the benefits.
But how do you encourage innovation? The obvious and rather blunt instrument is financial reward. That can work but often can prove divisive if an idea is, as is often the case, borne out of collaboration. Quite often the biggest motivator is recognition by senior management and perhaps a benefit or gift to reflect the effort.
Top Tips to Introduce Innovation
• Set clear vision and goals
• Communicate to all staff – provide examples of innovative solutions
• Encourage participation – inject enthusiasm and make staff accountable
• Consider appropriate motivational hook
• Introduce a sense of urgency, positive stress
• Continue to communicate
• Measure the financial impact of ideas taken forward
• Celebrate and reward success and the effort even for the failures
• Maintain momentum – avoid complacency
• Enjoy the process
Senior managers should actively encourage discussion among employees around innovation and be open to the wild and whacky. Not every idea will grow legs and become the next “big thing” but the process and input of fresh thinking from all corners of the organisation will stimulate a level of creativity and engagement with the firm.
Those discussions should also focus on an overall sense of urgency or as I would prefer to term it the delivery of a level of positive stress. Without the positive stress complacency can set in and momentum quickly lost.
The hardest part of delivering an innovative organisation is in maintaining that sense of urgency and motivation beyond the first and second story of success. The business should constantly be looking for the “what’s next” and have an eye firmly set on the horizon.
What staff need to know from management is the simple outline of the direction of travel, ethos and core goals of the company. They need to know what they can expect for creating a “good” idea. They can then be set free to join the dots, brainstorm, scribble down ideas as innovative ninjas thinking and moving fast solo or in groups to invent the future of your business.
The great bonus of creating a focus on innovation is the fun you can have in developing ideas. Shot selection and picking winners is critical but the process can be and should be an enjoyable one for all staff.
David Laud – Consultant, CEO, Mentor