Leading advisor Cris Beswick oulines his seven steps for injecting innovation in 2011.
Ok, before you read on let me be absolutely clear about one thing. There are no quick routes, shortcuts or guru inspired equations that will deliver true innovation. The truth is that it's hard work and it takes time if you want it to be a sustainable part of your business. But it's absolutely worth the effort, as we all know it drives business growth and competitive advantage.
The challenge most MDs and CEOs face is how to create a company with an entrepreneurial and innovative culture. To help meet that challenge, the companies I work with buy into my philosophy that 'innovation is a by-product of being exceptional' and that unless we strive to be outrageously good at what we do the chances of being truly different, innovative and world-class are remote.
The bottom line is that innovation is all about people. Creating the right culture and engaging people to want to be exceptional is what the world's leading, most innovative companies do best. They are talent-rich, entrepreneurial communities, collectively passionate about what they do and how they do it. Whatever sector or market you are in, whatever product you sell or service you offer, forget it. If you're the MD or CEO, from now on I want you to think of yourself as being in the people business. The first thing to get your head round is that shareholder value is no longer delivered by the hard traditional metrics but by what I call the three emotions of business, love, desire and hate.
You and all your people need to absolutely 'love' what you do and how you do it. Your customers have to 'desire' your brand to the point that you're the no-brainer choice. Finally, your competitors should 'hate' you. They should be constantly scratching their heads trying in vain to catch up. Now if that isn't what we all want our innovation efforts to deliver us then I don't know what is.
I believe building an innovative 'people centric' company is about your approach to these seven things: Strategy, People, Community, Environment, Creativity, Risk and Leadership.
These seven key themes are explored in more detail in my latest book 'The Road to Innovation' and they all play a huge part in getting you, your people and your business further down the road to innovation.
So, if you're up for the challenge here's an insight into where I think you should start.
The fact is that the road to innovation is more important than the destination. The best companies in the world say they are on a journey as it's the journey that creates significant change, especially when that change has a clear purpose.
You need to be absolutely clear about the strategy for innovation and differentiation you want to achieve and most importantly, your people need to be clear about it as well so involve them in the process.
After all, if they deem it 'your plan' they're less likely to do it and certainly won't do it well. There must be an overarching vision that drives what you do so don't be afraid of using new language, think big and be ambitious.
Change has to start at the top so if you're now thinking in terms of being in the people business appreciate their value to the company but most importantly their as yet untapped potential. Give your HR director a seat at the top table. After all, if delivering innovation is going to be done through your people then his/her input is now strategically vital.
Oh and by the way, change their title from HR to HB (Beings). They're people not resources remember. Find out what individuals are best at and most enjoy then sculpt roles around them. Rewarding people for their efforts is key but not always in the traditional way.
Creating an innovative culture means creating a silo free community where everyone is able to contribute and where there is no place for the status quo, but you can't do it on your own. Vital to the success of creating the right community is choosing the right champions.
This is a group of people representing all corners of the business, not just filtering and supporting messages from the top down, but feeding the voice of the organisation out from the centre.
If you want your people to love what they do, think differently must provide an environment that fosters creativity. You must create 'an amazing place to work'.
You must create spaces that are stimulating for idea generation, are practical for evaluation and implementation and that foster collaboration and social interaction. The bottom line is physical space matters.
Make it grey, linear and boring and it will negatively influence the way people think and the way they feel.
Creating a truly differentiated company requires you to push your people away from well-trodden paths and expose them to different perspectives and points of view. Show your people that they can be creative and give them the tools to be so. You must also expose all your people to real customer problems and needs so they know why and where you need them to think differently.
Innovation requires risk and the biggest gamble is to do nothing. However, the traditional business model is focused on minimising risk. But if you end up doing nothing, then you are assuming that the future will be no different from your present or past, and that you are happy with where you are today. So, address your exposure to risk and justify every step of the journey. Change your people's attitude towards risk and empower them to learn from it rather than fear it.
People need a clear vision; they need to know what direction the company is going in, what the destination is and whether the journey will be worth the pain. So, a leader must make the future seem bright, achievable, desirable, and possible. The leadership role is not for the faint hearted and in truth the leadership badge can really only be bestowed upon someone by the people who choose to follow said person.
Study some of the contemporary, genuine leaders in the world and you'll see they have similar traits. They're absolutely on-fire, they're dynamic and they're inspiring. To be so, they have to be inspired themselves and that helps to make them sincere. They're passionate about the company and its brand and they demonstrate that they 'live it and breath it' every day.