Innovation should be a constant business priority for every entrepreneur.
The last recession taught smart companies a valuable lesson– while poorly managed companies bunkered down in survival mode, innovative companies seized the opportunity and took the hibernating companies’ market share.
Consumers are pushing small and large companies to deliver more affordable, better, and exciting products and services. There is no more room for mediocrity in our globalized market place.
Here are seven simple steps to foster a culture of innovation in your organization.
1. Lead from the front
Innovation starts with the leadership qualities of the founder or CEO. Founders and CEOs of innovative organizations have to be passionate about their work, display a positive and optimistic outlook, have a real drive and clear vision, be forward thinking, and above all embrace change.
Leaders have to be bold thinkers and from the top-down or across the board, they play a primary role in fostering innovative organizations. Innovation is the high-performance mantra of business leaders.
2. Create a culture of innovation
People perform best when they are driven by inspiration and encouraged to push their boundaries and think outside the box. But employees cannot do this when they are being micromanaged. Employees need to feel independent enough to own their innovative thinking and to pursue the ideas they are passionate about. In fact, if management effectively fosters a creative and open environment, innovation will happen naturally.
A single value creating idea might require hundreds of dud ideas. When the entire organization brainstorms, the process of refining suggestions towards a single idea happens phenomenally quicker versus when only key staff is involved in the process. By creating a strong organizational culture, you devolve power down to every employee to innovate.
3. Build effective teams
The super-performing team has become the holy grail of the business world. Various key requirements need to be in place. Some of these include dependability between team members, effective structure and clarity of objectives; real meaning in the work the team does, as well believing in the long term results of the team’s efforts.
Teams also need to create a real sense of psychological safety where open and honest communication can prevail.
4. Reward failure
One of the most powerful tools for promoting employee creativity and innovation is recognition. People want to be recognized and rewarded for their ideas and initiatives, and it is a practice that can have tremendous payoff for the organization.
One reason employees often don’t express their ideas is that they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to be a failure if something doesn’t work out. Tolerate mistakes and expect failure, and reward lessons learned. Ideas don’t always work the first time.
5. Take ownership of client problems
Innovative organizations encourage staff to take ownership of problems presented by clients. So often client problems are seen as a headache– left in the hands of “customer service.” The truth is that every customer problem or complaint presents the organization with a phenomenal opportunity to showcase real customer service and highlight vast improvements in product or service design and delivery.
Lessons learnt from customer problems should be shared with each employee in the organization in order to get the maximum learning value from the exercise.
6. Benchmark against the best
How do entrepreneurs know they are innovative? Your business does not trade in a vacuum– you and your organization are part of a larger business eco system consisting of other competitor, clients, and industry partners.
If you are not the leader within your industry or niche market, it’s important to determine who the leader is and ensure that your strategies and tactics will enable you to take the top spot. Refrain from vanity metrics that create a feel good factor instead of real organization value.
7. Flat management structure
The management structures of innovative companies tend to be flat, enabling opportunities for open communication and encouraging confidence.
However, if a flat structure does not fit in with your geographic or company culture, then the alternative is to have an "Innovation Champion" who can bring management’s attention to great ideas. Whatever method you follow, ensure that you create genuine pathways for ideas to become reality within your organization.
Adopting the above seven strategies will enable your organization to map, systematize, manage, measure, and improve innovation and subsequently produce a steady stream of innovations- and the occasional game changer.