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Innovate or Die

I was speaking to a friend recently and the subject turned to innovation. He was working with a client who was concerned that there was no longer an innovative spirit in his company. It reminded me of a conversation I had recently had with a client who wasn’t sure how to get his managers to be more innovative.

I absolutely believe that in today’s business climate a company is either moving forward or moving backward. There is no static status quo. That doesn’t mean you must introduce a new iPhone every six months. More basically, it means everyone in the company must be constantly considering ways to do their job better and more efficiently. Even though that sounds easy, it often requires a culture shift that is sometimes most difficult for senior leadership. Ask yourself a few questions.

Has the company slipped into “comfortable” mode where everyone goes about their daily activities, never examining why or how they do those activities? This is quite common as repetition tends to cause complacency. Team members become comfortable and don’t want to change.

How does the company’s leadership view risk? Does fear reign supreme? New and innovative ideas can strike fear into the heart of even the bravest executive. That fear, if not controlled, becomes the culture that suppresses innovative thought.

Are team members recognized and rewarded for new ideas and process improvements? People often have new ideas but when they don’t feel their contribution is appreciated, they will keep those ideas to themselves.

It’s very common for a company to become comfortable in what they do and how they do it. Unfortunately, markets don’t reward comfort. Successful companies establish a culture that encourages fresh ideas and better ways of doing things. Team members need to know that their ideas are encouraged, welcomed, and appreciated. Yes, this tends to introduce some turmoil, but that’s okay. In fact, the team that is dissatisfied with the way things are and eager to find improvements in their operation will be happier and more productive.

Innovation is risky. Never improving your operation is worse. Your team will be much more willing to try new things if they know that smart risks are acceptable. This is a hard concept for leaders and that’s understandable; the results of that risk fall on them. Although I don’t recommend throwing all caution to the wind and charging forward, smart risk must be accepted.

If you want your team to take risks, they must be rewarded for doing so. The reward doesn’t always have to be a big deal. It might mean a note of thanks or it might mean a monetary share of big savings or revenue that result from their idea. The point is to let people know you appreciate their contribution.

It isn’t really hard to get your team members to be innovative. They probably already have ideas. The hard part is accepting the challenges and risk that come with creating an innovative culture. If you are going to keep your business moving forward, you must accept the risk. Your team is ready, are you?


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