Factor Six: Involved Innovation Process not in Place
by Kevin D. Crone
Most companies recognize innovation as a positive practice, or strive to be innovative. Disruptive technologies, evolving customer expectations, and the globalized marketplace catalyze the need for companies to adapt quickly, identify new opportunities and capitalize on them faster than ever. The reality though is, the vast majority of service organizations are struggling to master all the dimensions of innovation, or they don’t know how to pursue such an intangible goal within their business activity.
As a recent McKinsey Quarterly article notes, innovation is complex because its reach should be company wide and many competing factors, competing priorities, personal mental blocks, overwhelming “busyness”, preconceived strategies and goals, over management, short term thinking, lack of leadership and a disengaged staff make it difficult to innovate.
I, for one, am tired of hearing how uncreative we Canadians are which leads to few ways to increase productivity and competitiveness. Organizations are made up of people and everyone can tap into their own creative potential. Everyone can help create the ideas and actions to respond to a changing marketplace, but in reality, very few people understand and use the power of creativity and innovation. It has to be taught, allowed and encouraged. The very nature of an organization is to get things right, make them happen routinely and focus on executing them daily to achieve now-oriented results. Yeah, right!
Rarely does all that happen. In real life there isn’t always one right way to do things, and things don’t always work. Stuff happens and yet we continue to believe we must focus on the same old ways. Often unintentionally, management doesn’t allow new ideas and those who present them are ignored. This is why people leadership is so talked about today. Here are some of my thoughts about creativity and innovation I learned from coaching teams to innovate and grow.
Managers cannot manage creativity. Leaders stimulate it. Rules occasionally need to be broken in order to see what is possible. Playing ‘what if’ games can be amazing…allow it. Making fun of the truth about a business can give you a whack on the side of the head and wake you up. Practicality doesn’t usually come first. Who are we kidding? Life doesn’t go as we expect or plan it to go. Why not create the life and business you really want?
The fact remains that when things change, we have to change even though we are taught there are only right ways and you have to be right all the time.
No wonder we don’t like change. When new information about our markets or clients become available and circumstances change, it’s no longer possible to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions. Over and over Ontarians are discovering that what worked two years ago won’t work this week. Marketing, selling, how we find and ready our team to help us compete has all dramatically changed. You have a choice. You can either bemoan the fact that things aren’t as easy as they used to be or you can get busy developing and implementing an innovative process in your organization that allows interruptive questions, information and ideas to create innovative ways to compete and win.
The process begins by:
- Dialoguing with your team about the mental barriers to creativity. Make the list which usually includes, “I don’t see myself as creative, I just do my work and go home, I follow the rules, get things technically right is what I focus on. Don’t be foolish that can’t work, blue-skying is foolish and a waste of time, if you can’t immediately prove your answer, then don’t present the possibility, to err is wrong and forbidden,” etc. etc.
- Once a team sees the mental barriers and realize they’re all just made up and for the most part are just in our heads, then they can allow themselves to create a vision of what is wanted by the team and required in the marketplace. Listening to customers, studying trends, and asking make the vision bigger than a list of “to dos” from the same place you are in or it is not a vision. Make it visual, clear, compelling and simple. It ought to include how you will help your clients succeed.
“What do we want to do as a result of what we now know?”
– Then engage a group in creating a vision based on your strengths and passion and what’s required in the marketplace. Make the vision bigger than a list of ‘to do’s’. Make it clear, compelling and simple. It must include how you help your clients succeed. Be factual. Opinions, conjecture and emotional mind-made-up assertions are not allowed at this stage. Just the facts, numbers, how often, when etc. Determine what’s going on in the business in a truthful, non-finger pointing way.
– Then quickly compare the vision to reality and the actions, initiatives and strategies will appear and be obvious to those involved. For example, a new way to engage our clients and find out their issues and wants. Finding out what are the trends in the market in which we compete. What are the technical trends, etc.?
– Then prioritize the list of actions and assign champions or leaders of small teams who are responsible for a plan within a certain time frame. The teams develop a clearer picture for each initiative and allow each team member to create a list of “what if” questions, possibilities and actions. Eventually, each team chooses the best idea, decides on the best opportunity and develops the action plan along with a logical business case for moving ahead then presents it to management.
This process has to be done with a sense of urgency. Doers thrive in this environment and over-analytics begin to realize that action is all there is. We have been coaching teams through this process for many years in some of the most opportunistic organizations in Canada, and I can attest to the fact that it works. It is the same old principle – the best do what others know about but don’t do – and it can be exciting.
Our research shows that few service companies have this kind of involved, innovative process, but when they do install it they become strategic in gaining a deeper understanding of the needs and behaviours of their customers. They realize that employees want to be engaged and can be taught to be more creative. The biggest benefit is in the shift of your team’s perspective as to what kind of customer experience is expected today, what kind of innovative initiatives can improve it and how you can create a cadre of skilled, experience ambassadors to deliver on it. In one of our studies 77% of respondents said that creating a greater customer experience that matches up with the customers requirements can lead to a 175% increase in spending, relative to what happens after a poor experience.
- When was the last time you implemented a new idea? How long did it take to implement?
- When was your last innovative action team meeting? Is it a part of your structure to be a continuous learning and innovative organization?
- Well, regardless of your answer, what are you going to do? Bemoan how things have changed or engage a team to create new, innovative actions to compete and grow?
Next week… Number Seven – and it is a big one.
Have a great week.
Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
(905) 826-7300 / 1-800-361-2032