Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask and You Shall Receive

I pulled this from July 2008 blurb from BusinessWeek (sorry no link). Wow. Long time. However, it remains relevant as things have been turn up-side in the world.

Driving Sustainable Innovation in Tough Times
Posted by: on July 09
While many companies are hunkering down during the current economic storm, smart companies understand that it is critical to drive the market, instead of being driven down by it. CEOs have to be committed to sustainable innovation, and management must make its commitment to innovation palpable.

Here are several ways for management to drive the innovation culture at your company:
Invest in people. Develop innovation capabilities by providing innovation best-practices training.
Reward wanted behavior. Publicly reward those who distinguish themselves as innovators. Two examples: Create annual innovators awards. Build a wall of innovation.

Invest in infrastructure to support sustainable innovation.
Visibility to corporate objectives. Often investment is wasted on ideas that are doomed from the start because they are not aligned with the needs of the company. Knowledge-workers must be able to integrate corporate strategy into their innovation paths.

Practice innovation. Workers must practice innovation in everything they do. Managers must support innovation workers and not push employees to short-circuit the solution process.

Managers who avoid taking responsibility for driving an innovation culture by using the crutch of "adoption must be a grassroots thing" will always be met with failure and left wondering why they can't achieve their repeatable innovation goals.

James Todhunter
Chief Technology Officer
Invention Machine

Investing in people.... a hard concept to believe in currently, given the extremely high levels of unemployment. People are always the first to go due to the knee-jerk reaction of "cutting costs." It is one thing if it is a lazy or extremely under performing employee, but if you wipe-out the heart of your business, the people, it is harder to innovate and adapt. Businesses cannot expect their computers to change their business for them. It takes the insight of your employees on what needs to be changed to move forward.

Everyone is worried about costs. Sales drop off and revenue is not coming in, so survival is, of course, one's goal. However, survival will not come from ridding the people. How are sales supposed to come in? How are new markets supposed to be tapped? How can the business model change? How can anything be changed for the better without people?

Innovation is a scary word for some. I think a lot of people believe it strictly involves some expensive computer system or technology that is thrown into the business and expected to do all the work. Or that it is for the "big guys".

Let's take a restaurant for example. Margins are typically very slim for some establishments, so wherever they can save costs and increase revenues/traffic is a major plus. I think simply signing up for Twitter or Facebook is innovating. The business is increasing its exposure to a internet-socially networked obsessed demographic. Using Twitter to spread information about meal specials to those 'select few' who follow is free! FREE! For instance, a teenager is checking Facebook/Twitter and sees the specials. When the parents ask about where they should go for dinner, the teenager can suggest the restaurant and the specials. It eliminates the guess work. To me, this is innovation. You are changing a portion of your business model to lower costs, but increase traffic..... all for free. Before all the business magazines and media stations talked about Twitter, I bet if you asked the sixteen year old server, he would have told you about this... oh, but wait, you let him go.

If you lose people, how will ideas like this surface? Open the lines of communication in your business before letting people go. You will be amazed at how people will come up with ideas to help save costs and think about evolving the business model. Firing everyone when things are rough limits you when things pick back up again and you're left in the dust because you let everyone go. I understand there are always some employees who are not holding their weight and are more fluff than anything. Thus, they most likely need to be let go. But, when it comes to overall economic turmoil, talk with your employees about evolving the business and getting their $.02. They may just have that one idea that could change everything.

~the GURU