We all love the great innovating businesses of our time, whether they're global icons like Apple or Google or the many superb local companies which feature in the Post each week. Most businesses recognise innovation is a must if they want to stay ahead of their competition. But I'm not convinced innovation is as rooted as it should be in most companies. I'm going to offer two reasons why that may be and six ways to overcome such inertia.
First, whether we're business owners, management or employees, we all offer some resistance to change. Some people see almost any change as a bad thing, and will fight it at almost any cost. Others accept some change but become more uncomfortable the closer to home it gets. A third group are okay with change generally but will still be obstructive if it directly impacts them. These attributes are caused by insecurity and instincts of self-preservation. We worry that change will make our business less profitable or our job less secure.
Secondly, and this may surprise you, I believe often managers actively, and mostly inadvertently, suppress innovation. Why? Because people confuse leadership with having to come up with all the best ideas. Since management defined the strategy in the first place they don't want to be diverted from it. Under pressure to hit short-term targets they have neither the time nor the inclination to rethink. All of us can be just a little bit defensive when someone comes up with a better idea than our own.
Taken together these two points stop companies realising their full potential. Management aren't as open to new suggestions as they should be and staff are disinclined to make them fearing they won't be taken seriously or might even be regarded as being disrespectful. If I'm wrong and this has no relevance to your organisation stop reading this now! But if there is even the tiniest grain of truth in what I'm saying stay with me to see what necessary change you can make.
First, remember any business can innovate, you don't have to be a tech giant to do so. Corner shops, pubs and taxi firms can innovate. Even freight companies can!
Tell your team you value innovation. If you haven't always cherished new ideas confess to that as well. Be courageous enough to admit why. Explain why you're making a new resolution on this now. Unless you have a very small team communicate all this in writing and in person if possible. Your written word sets your new commitment in stone while the personal touch helps people to see you really mean it.
Now, invite ideas. Set up brainstorming sessions for your team, include time for brainstorming in your meetings, establish a suggestion box, offer rewards for the best ideas, ask each person in turn what they would change if they could. If you have job descriptions and appraisals include a section on innovation in them. Ask people to put themselves in the position of the customer - what would they expect if they were one?
Once you've teased out some ideas make sure you value them. Show gratitude to every person who offers a suggestion even if it isn't going to work. Try to think of modifications so it can work. Never be dismissive of an idea even if it's bad. Make a big deal out of a good idea so that everyone knows about it. Never, ever steal the credit for someone else's idea.
Make sure you follow through with good ideas. Be prepared to take a few chances you wouldn't normally take, invest some money you wouldn't usually risk. If the idea fails be philosophical and don't pass the buck - you agreed to do it!
Last but not least, ease the path of change. If you're making changes help people feel as secure as possible through them. Sell the benefits of the proposal. Explore people's fears and objections and try to overcome or minimise them as much as you can. Appoint "change champions" to ensure ideas are well implemented and everyone understands what to do. Review the outcome and be prepared to further adapt the idea to the realities on the ground. Give it enough time but not too much! If it's successful celebrate that success.