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Whose Job is it to Innovate?

September 16th 2016

When a company is small and starting out, everyone has to be innovative. It’s a necessity. You need to innovate to survive, because everything is new. There are new challenges and problems every day, every hour, and a lot of time needs to be spent thinking about how to meet those challenges and solve those problems. Companies have to work out how to supply something of value to customers, how to market their goods and/or services, how to attract and retain the best people and a hundred other things. As they do this, they are being, by definition, innovative.

As a company grows, the need to innovate decreases. For example, when a customer has a problem, no one has to think about how to solve it anymore, because other customers have had the same problem in the past and the company has developed a process for dealing with it. So they just put into place the ‘customer has problem number 7’ process. When a company starts out, people have to create a marketing strategy but once that strategy is up and running, if it seems to be working okay, then there’s no pressing need to re-examine that strategy and see if it could be improved.

Another reason that innovation decreases as companies grow is that, once a company gets to a certain size, most of its efforts are taken up with dealing with today’s challenges and problems; keeping customers happy, ensuring targets are met, keeping systems and processes running smoothly. There isn’t much time left to think about how to do things better.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, innovation changes from something that you have to do, to just being a word that sounds good in the mission statement.

Unless you’re the CEO. CEO’s have to be innovative. It’s part of their job to continually challenge the status quo, to look ahead and to prepare the company not just for next month, but for the next few years. Upper management do this too.

So is that the answer to the question? Is it the CEO’s and upper management’s job to innovate?

Whilst that is how many companies operate, it is not the best way. Innovative ideas to improve the way a company operates can come from anyone, from the CEO to the receptionist. I have seen countless examples of people nowhere near the top of an organisation coming up with clever innovative ways to increase revenue, cut costs, or otherwise improve things. Upper management are not as close to customers or sales or complaints as those who work lower down. Those who deal directly with customers know what’s working well and what could be improved. Those who deal with an organisation’s systems and processes every day know which ones work well, and which are clunky and inefficient.

It’s not just ‘brilliant’ people who can have innovative ideas. Almost anyone can do it. How then, can an organisation get its people thinking of better ways of doing things, and harvest ideas from everyone.

1. MAKE IT CLEAR INNOVATION IS PART OF THE JOB

Tell everyone that part of their job is coming up with better ways of doing things. Make it a KPI. Set a quota of 2 new ideas a month. They don’t have to be great ideas. They just have to be something.

2. GET PEOPLE TO THINK

Encourage your people to be on the lookout for things that don’t work perfectly. Get them to spend 10 minutes a day thinking of ways of making them better.

3. PITCH IDEAS TO A PERSON

Have a half hour period each week when you schedule no appointments. That is the time staff can pitch you new ideas. Encourage them to get their pitch down to 2 minutes. If you commit to that time, it sends a clear message to staff that you think innovation is important.

4. THANK PEOPLE FOR BAD IDEAS

If someone pitches you an idea that won’t work, be gentle. Thank them for going to the effort of thinking of it, and for having the courage to pitch it… because then they will come back with another idea, and that could be the one that makes or saves you a lot of money

5. HAVE A CLEAR, CREDIBLE AND TRANPARENT PROCESS FOR ASSESSING, TRIALLING AND IMPLEMENTING IDEAS

Don’t just collect ideas and do nothing with them. Make sure you resource the back end and have a clear process for growing, assessing and trialling ideas, with timelines and accountabilities. There is no point generating lots of ideas, unless you are able to find the best ones and use them. 

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Whose Job is it to Innovate?
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