Fostering a Culture of Innovation
Content provided by the Women Presidents' Organization
By Marsha Firestone, Ph.D.
President and Founder of Women Presidents' Organization (WPO)
Question: How can I help my company increase its capacity for innovation?
Not long ago I personally called a number of members of the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO) for one-on-one interviews, and I asked each woman what business strategies accounted for the success of her company. One of the strategies most frequently identified was "innovation."
Today's most highly successful businesses are innovative-and not only in the early stages. These companies are continuously innovating. No matter how strong a product or service a company may have, it is advisable to regularly update its products, services, organizational structure, customer relationships, business strategies, internal processes, brand and image to capitalize on opportunities and grow into a market leader.
At WPO's 2006 International Conference, renowned business strategist and keynote speaker Gary Hamel emphasized the importance of resilience in the workplace. Hamel pointed out that many companies that thrived 30 years ago no longer exist today, because they failed to make the transition to new products, services and especially new ways of managing. To survive, Hamel said, a company needs evolutionary strategic adaptation to maintain its competitive advantage over time.
It is critical to be innovative and resilient, to avoid creeping mediocrity, or implementing the same comfortable marketing and business strategies year after year. You must not only revise and analyze your service or product, but also the way you run your company. Staying on top of a constantly changing marketplace and advancing technology is one of the biggest challenges of running a business today.
Innovation Does Not Always Mean
Adding New Products or Services
Adding new features or services to a product, or adding a new line of products altogether is not the only way to innovate. Consider ways to reduce the cost of your products or services or how to repackage or make them more appealing to your customers. Analyze distribution and marketing channels and sales strategies. Sometimes innovation requires a new and different approach to customer relationships.
Perhaps it is time for a facelift of your company's brand and identity. Have your marketing materials, logo and image gone stale? Does your company still project the desired image in the marketplace? How has your target market changed? Does your customer profile look the same as it did when the product was launched?
Innovation Does Not Have To Be
Radical To Be Effective
Focusing on radical innovation is not the only way to keep your company and product fresh. Incremental innovation can also bring benefits to your organization. While radical innovation is often costly, risky and broad in scope, incremental innovations in such mundane areas as procedures, processes, equipment, team organization, work flow, training and facilities can have an impact, especially over a period of time. Look at how you can you make business processes simpler and less costly. Reinvent and re-examine your company's organization and structure. Provide employees with fresh responsibilities and new roles that challenge them and encourage their growth. One effective way to innovate is to provide your employees with new skill sets and training.
How To Foster a Culture of
Smaller companies actually have the advantage when it comes to innovation, because they are less bureaucratic. This translates into an agile ability to respond to market conditions and seize opportunities often missed by larger organizations. Employees in a culture of innovation are unafraid to improvise or experiment. Managers in such a culture are risk-tolerant and tend to aggressively search for, create and exploit opportunities.
Dr. Jana Matthews, the Growth Expert of the WPO and the Founder and CEO of Boulder Quantum Ventures, an internationally renowned consulting group that specializes in entrepreneurial growth, says that the CEO's job as a leader is to create a culture that leads to innovation and growth:
"You've tried to hire the most creative, talented, and experienced people to work for you, so you need to allow them to work independently. Let them take risks and try things in new ways. Granting autonomy and flexibility doesn't mean you lose control of the company. By holding people accountable for results and asking them to clearly define their goals and processes, you will lead them to produce awesome results."
If the management at a given company is rigid and opposed to change, you cannot expect the employees to be innovative. It takes consistent effort to foster a work environment that encourages the contribution of new ideas, suggestions and strategies from everyone at the company, receptionist to president.
The burden of communicating-and ensuring that communication becomes a two-way process-falls upon management. Develop a structure for communicating the company mission, culture, business plan, key decisions, new ideas and results on a regular basis. Encourage employee input and participation in every one of these areas. Be a champion of change, and your company will naturally position itself to grow with the times.
Content copyrighted by the Women Presidents' Organization