How Your Culture Will Ensure You Keep Your Edge
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Company Culture, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
It is astounding that Blockbuster didn’t start delivering DVDs by mail back in 1999, shutting Netflix out of the market. That it took Barnes & Noble over two years to create an ereader and online book buying portal to compete with Amazon’s Kindle cost, which cost it a huge chunk of market share -- a loss which is still sending ripples across large book retailers worldwide. When drones became popular, DHL and FedEx had the opportunity to begin exploring the option of drone delivery to its fullest to protect from outside influence and make sure they stayed ahead of the curve, but alas, Amazon is leading the charge there also.
These recent innovations have shaken established industries across transportation, communications, retail and logistics multiple times in recent history. The question is: Why is the change still coming from the outside? Why do companies, and entire industries, ignore innovation and become challenged by outsiders, often losing market share and the status of "industry leader"? It comes down to company culture.
The adage "It’s always been done this way" is one of the most dangerous phrases to be uttered in a company, and the enforcement of that thinking is the first step to the road to ruin. The thinking that exploring new methods is dangerous is flawed for one main reason: It assumes "Ceterix Parabus" (all things remain equal) – this can only ever occur in theory, but never in reality. The world is changing faster than ever before, with cultural norms evolving to catch up with the accelerated pace of technological advancement. All things are most certainly not remaining the same, and if they do, rest assured someone, somewhere has a surprise in store.
The saying goes "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail," but whose responsibility is it to prepare? In short, everyone. From the CEO to the intern, the battlecry of "None of us are as innovative as all of us" lays the foundation whereby all contributions are valid and welcome. Each individual within a company has his or her own area of expertise, technical or otherwise, which gives insight into new ways of innovating anything from internal processes to the overarching product or service sold. Companies that are open to hearing new ideas, and are agile enough to adapt to the changing tides, will stay relevant for longer, and maintain market share over innovative newcomers.
WalkMe, Israel’s "Most Promising Startup of 2016" has ingrained the spirit of "There is no such thing as a bad idea." As Rafi Sweary, president of WalkMe, puts it, “One of the most important ways by which we promote innovative thinking at WalkMe is that if an idea fails, there is no negativity against the person whose idea it was. If, however, an idea is adopted successfully, the attribution and appreciation for the person who came up with the idea is seen company-wide. This created a culture in which everyone competes for innovation and efficiency in all things implemented at WalkMe.”
This thinking can only ever come from the top down -- senior company executives must empower managers to listen and encourage the sharing of ideas from their entire team. Companies can adopt this thinking as a day-to-day occurrence or one saved for special events, creating hackathons where teams work together to intensely focus on solving complex issues or creating innovative solutions to set challenges. Hackathons started as a technique often utilized for software related businesses, but now are being used as a tool to solve more issues across all different verticals.
Other companies have found ways of going one step further, in the interest of staying ahead of the curve. Google’s 80/20 rule, which gave employees the opportunity to use 20 percent of their time on developing new projects, led to the creation of Gmail, Google Maps and Adsense. Coffee behemoth Starbucks created a barista competition to keep their baristas skills up to scratch and strive to improve with the sense of competition. Digital content company ironSource created an internal accelerator called ironLabs which allows the 700-plus person company to behave like a small startup.
Tomer bar Zeev, CEO and co-founder of ironSource, explained how useful the accelerator has been critical by saying, “We're not only comfortable nurturing and maintaining multiple different products -- that diversification is actually one of our greatest strengths. As we grew, it was imperative that we find a way to maintain that diversification, so we founded ironLabs as a space where anyone with an idea would have the resources to explore it. It worked perfectly, ensuring that we kept our knack for agile innovation, and even birthed a new product that is now a major business element at the company.”
The platform for creating innovation will always appear in different forms depending on each individual company needs and culture, however its existence should be sacrosanct, and viewed as central for the continued existence to the business.
How does your company innovate and avoid being made obsolete? Let me know on Twitter @benjudah.