Innovation is the key to success and survival in today’s business climate. Hundreds of large and small companies in every industry are hoping to become leaders in their sector, but without proactive, innovative practices, many will likely be ignored or completely forgotten.
Here are some insights to push the innovative limits.
Avoid the Status Quo
One of the biggest barriers of innovation is the tendency to want to keep business practices the way they currently are, especially if they appear to be successful. The nature of business is changing every day, and companies that are risk-averse and unwilling to try new things are likely to be forgotten in the industry.
To avoid being stuck in the status quo, managers should maintain a mindset of innovation rather than being complacent of how things are currently done. This comes down to finding a better, more efficient way to complete a task through constant questioning. Managers should always tell themselves and their staff, “There’s a better way to do it, find it.” With this mindset, managers (and eventually other employees) will begin to look at solutions from not just a short-term, but a long-term perspective. A question that should be asked on a daily basis is, “Will the process that we’ve been using for the past several years work for us in the future?”
Collaborative Teams Can Help with Innovation
Some of the best ideas come not from the top of the employment ladder, but from the bottom. Although management helps pave the way, innovative efforts are pointless if the whole company isn’t on the same page.
When companies hire, one trait the HR department should look for are signs of good problem-solving skills and proactive thinking. For instance, asking situational questions during the interview, such as, “What steps would you take to solve this problem?” or “How would you approach this particular project?” and “What do you like to do during a slow work day?” Once hiring is completed, managers should push new staff outside of their comfort zones and involve them in the business because new employees can often have fresh ideas. Keep in mind that new employees may be hesitant at first to offer their opinion toward a business situation, so make sure to effectively communicate that their honest feedback is needed.
Collaboration should also be encouraged. Teams collaborating together can help bring revolutionary ideas to the surface, and feedback from their coworkers can help turn a good idea into a great idea. It’s also important for managers to solicit feedback and brainstorm ideas to improve current operations or services. Managers should be on the lookout for any trends among the ideas employees share, which can help identify key issues in the workplace or even discover the next best product or service for clients.
After collaborating with employees and giving feedback on topics, managers must keep an open-door policy at all times. If a staff member is scared to walk into a manager’s office with feedback, the business may never hear the great idea that’s been looming in the back of an employee’s mind. Managers should also keep an ear to the ground and not be hesitant to join in on conversations around the water cooler. Sometimes that’s where the most innovative ideas are conceived.
In addition to looking to staff for new ideas, companies should also took to industry peers. Although a company may have paved its own path to success, it’s likely the strategy was influenced by others. Managers should always be open to sharing big ideas with both colleagues and competitors. This will open up conversations regarding what has been successful in practice and what hasn’t. Collaboration on this level helps foster an environment in which businesses can continuously push their innovative limits and evolve along with their competitors.
Attending conferences also allows managers to keep up with industry leaders and can provide new insight to staff. When attending conferences, managers should pay attention to the main themes of the conference and grab a few pearls of wisdom from speakers and colleagues that can be applied to the company’s business model, as opposed to trying to absorb every single aspect of each presentation.
Also, never pigeonhole business research within a single sector. Looking at what other industries are doing can also bring out ideas that are truly innovative. For example, a tech research firm may release consumer or behavioral data that is just as relevant to the tech world as it is to the financial, automotive or retail industries. The possibilities are only limited by the ability to apply the information in a different way than which it was presented.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Our world is dominated by technology. It is good practice to have the IT department watch for new technology and trends, but it is never a good idea to invest in technology just for the sake of doing it. That path generally leads to wasted money and time with little effect on the bottom line. Instead, technology should be used as a tool to solve a problem, improve client service or streamline a process.
Also, when investing in new technology, managers must recognize the opportune time to roll it out. Launching a new technology before consumers are ready for it could prove unsuccessful. For example, in the financial services sector, the idea of mobile banking began in the late ‘90s. Most financial institutions did not rush to immediately pick up this technology, and for good reason. Cell phones at the time were widely used, but solely for phone calls and with little interest in Internet use. Today, following the smartphone revolution, most financial institutions have picked up mobile banking to meet consumer demands and expectations. The trend now makes sense because most consumers use a smartphone for Internet access on a daily basis.
Innovative practices should only be implemented if they make sense for the company. A good business will always keep its customers, employees, and operations in mind, and innovation should center around those things.
Every innovative practice must be carried out with the resources (budget, personnel, etc.) that are already available. A business that is overly optimistic and attempts to innovate with resources it doesn’t have will likely fail. When implementing new practices, companies should test the market/process in small increments and adjust the project to maximize efficiency along the way. Businesses cannot be afraid to pull the plug on ideas that were initially surrounded with praise if managers know a campaign is going downhill – salvage whatever resources you didn’t use and go back to the drawing board. Additionally, a business should have a clear goal in mind. This keeps the project management team on-task and allows them to look outside of the box while not straying too far from it. A clearly articulated goal at the beginning will make it easier to determine if the end result was worth the risk.
It’s a State of Mind
There is no precise way to practice innovation. It must be a state of mind that starts at the top and trickles down to every employee in every department. It is not something to simply put on the calendar to do Tuesday afternoons. It should be an integral part of the company’s philosophy and in the minds of employees throughout the entire workweek. This will help employees contribute to making the company the best that it can be.
Paul Trylko is the CEO of Amplify Credit Union, a member-owned financial cooperative based in Austin with more than 45,000 members and over $625 million in assets, and works everyday to bring financial success to members.
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