Dare to Innovate!
Here's How To Get Started
There you are, at the annual industry trade show. You love these shows. At the show you get to network, show new and potential customers your product line, and lets face it, have a little fun.
Damn! How do they do it?
And then it happens. You turn down an aisle and see your competitors booth. No big deal, except its packed with people, all trying to see something. As you get closer you learn that you competitor has come out with another new product. Damn! How do they do it? Every year your competitor creates some new product that forces you to play catch-up. Why can't we innovate? I better go get the team together and figure out how to react to this new competition.
Proactive vs Reactive
Now you are frustrated. Your team tends to respond to challenges well, but they are not proactive. The team does not innovate anything new. You keep telling them that the company needs new ideas, that we need to stay ahead of our competitors and improve our customer relationships. It just never happens. As their leader you even sent everyone to that weekend course on innovation. That wasn't cheap. Then you spent the big bucks and brought in a consultant to help the team improve innovation. What happened to all that great enthusiasm and talk of new products? And here you are, playing catch up and behind again.
Top Down Innovation
We often observe this as we work with companies to improve performance. Over the years we have seen a number of ways to improve innovation. One of those ways is to drive innovation from the top. Yes, senior leaders need to demand it. Here are some ways to make it happen.
- Establish the "creation of innovative ideas" as an expectation. You do this in a variety of ways. At an all company meeting, one on ones, and casual conversations in hallways. The important thing is to keep repeating the expectation again and again.
- Just setting the expectations will not get you the innovation results you desire. You need to enforce the expectation. To do this you set up short, regular innovation review meetings where you track the generation, or stagnation, of innovative ideas. In other words, at least monthly, you gather your innovators around and ask "what have you got?". Keep these innovation meetings to 30 minutes or less. Solving and developing ideas is not the purpose of these meetings. Tracking the implementation of ideas and actions is the objective.
- Once the new ideas start coming, record actions to implement them. Track the actions from meeting to meeting. Tracking actions results in implementation.
- Have your team develop a filter to decide which innovative ideas to use. Pick the best number of ideas that you have resources to implement. This can be 1 or 100, just make sure you have the resources. Get your team together and ask them how they would decide which idea to use. Bring representatives from all your company to talk about how each idea would affect them. Put this information in a matrix allowing you to determine which ideas to implement.
- A situation where innovative idea generation is not happening may occur. Solve it by creating small groups of 2 to 4 people. Depending on the culture, many people fear standing up and presenting new ideas by themselves. Why not just stick to the status quo, keep my mouth shut and remain employed. Small groups will release trapped creativity. If it doesn't, its time to demote or fire someone for not being innovative. You need to match the expectation that innovation is expected with a consequence.
- One role of senior leaders is to research and keep abreast of new industry trends, and customer requirements. You hear these things, and one of your roles is to sponsor these initiatives in your company. It might be something like you stating "there are new advances in ferrous oxides. I want you to come back and tell me how they can help our products." Making these kinds of statements provides focus to your team. These statements also push innovation from the top down, to get things kick-started. In this case you know ferrous oxides are important and you are setting the expectation they you want your company to use them.
- Once you are holding regular meetings and tracking results, start recognizing and celebrating milestones. Recognition can be a thank you in the innovation team meeting, or a thank you at an all company meeting. The important thing is to let the company know people are innovating and progressing towards launching a new product. This will excite everyone.
- When the time comes to start producing the new product or service, you again bring the entire company together. Get the innovators to explain the new product. Don't do that yourself. Keep them involved. Your role is to set the expectation that everyone will break out into small groups and figure out the requirements needed to launch the product. Let your employees run with it.
- Finally, as crowds congregate around your booth at the next trade show, make sure you have brought the key innovator or innovators with you. Involve them in experiencing the success that innovation brings. When they take that back to the company it is priceless!
The main takeaway is that one way to drive innovation is to start it yourself, from the top. Set the expectation, track progress, celebrate milestones and act on consequences. Doing these things will get you the innovation results you desire.
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CREATING BETTER COMPANIES, EASILY AND ON YOUR TERMS
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