The undercurrent that drives the small business community appears to be the requirement to innovate. How can you possibly expect a seat at the cool kid’s table unless you come up with the hippest, hottest, newest idea every year and make a big splash of a launch? Well, wouldn’t we all like to be in a position to do that but, since we’ve matured a bit since high school, most of us have acknowledged that ‘innovative genius’ isn’t in our toolkit.
We’ve seen some amazingly innovative companies hit the headlines in the past several years and I have nothing but admiration for them. It’s a trend that will continue and I can’t wait to see what happens next. But, what if you’re in the other 99.8% of us who won’t be coming up with any cool ideas? We may not be geniuses but we’re not shrinking violets either so, where do we fit in the puzzle?
Innovation is the element that allows businesses to stay fresh, vibrant and relevant. But is it really wise of you to be spending time, energy and lots of money chasing after shiny objects or might you be better off developing something new in conjunction with your staff or in collaboration with your clients?
Technically, what we’re really talking about here is co-innovation. Opportunity is everywhere if you choose to see it as such and a great way to grow those opportunities in your own backyard is by fostering an atmosphere of co-innovation with your staff.
When you invite co-innovation over to play, there’s no end to the possibilities that can and will transpire.
Just as many hands make light work, many brains make an idea come to life, quickly and imaginatively. It would be handy if creating an atmosphere of co-innovation was as easy as tapping on an app but of course, it isn’t. However, it is as straightforward as being willing to make a commitment, at the leadership level, that co-innovation is now part of the strategy of the company; from this moment on, it’s woven into the fabric that shapes the company’s future.
In truth, it implies a major shift in almost every aspect of the organization. It definitely means the team is going to be taking on a new, more interesting and more powerful role. Some will be ready for it and others won’t so let’s look at some ways to ameliorate their fear and resistance and help them climb on-board more willingly. No throwing babies away with the bath water.
True North – By any means necessary, keep your mission and your company’s values alive in the hearts and minds of everyone in the company and stay aligned with them always. Write it on the wall if you have to.
Brainstorming – Most teams are a goldmine of ideas and suggestions. They know the work inside and out and they know what would make it more efficient, effective, and probably more profitable. Cash in on that goldmine by allowing them to openly share their ideas. People want to be heard and most people get a big kick out of seeing that they’ve been able to contribute to a new idea. The engagement level of your staff will increase dramatically and you’ll be creating some of the most loyal employees you could imagine.
Underscore the importance of co-innovation by setting the expectation that everyone involved will set specific time aside (on the calendar) in the daily or weekly process to move the needle forward on a project. One of the first brainstorming sessions might involve how they’re going to get the daily work done more efficiently so they can dedicate time to co-innovation.
Culture – Weave co-innovation into the performance goals of your staff. The idea here is to encourage them and remember that everyone brings their own unique strengths to the table. As an example, a performance goal that has to do with working together with their team mates is equally as powerful as one who commits to coming up with a new idea on their own.
Focus – Dedicate a conference room specifically to co-innovation projects. Assign a leader among the staff who maintains oversight of the project, making sure the team remains focused and on topic. It could be a wonderful growth opportunity for them and you could encourage them to take turns at serving in that role.
Treat the work seriously ensuring that the team keeps track of where they are in the project, where they want to be, what they’ve tried, what worked, what didn’t and the new ideas they want to try. For the bits that worked, keep good track of the elements that will be included in the final proposal.
Reflection – Fodder for co-innovation can come through examining the problems that need to be solved in the industry, what problems need to be solved in your operation to be more efficient, what are clients asking for, and what other products do your suppliers make that could correlate with what you offer to make it an even better product. You might find that one of your staff members is a natural-born researcher who would love to bring valuable information to the team.
Benefit/ROI – Co-innovation is great but obviously needs to make sense to the business from the standpoint of sustainability, scalability and salability. Your Accountant or CFO should be an adjunct advisor to the team.
Preparation – Innovation attempts in a chaotic organization only creates more chaos. So, to make all of this happen, your operation needs to be tight and efficient. Your staff needs to be in control of the day-to-day, process irregularities need to be a rare occurrence, the staff needs to be working as a cohesive unit and the business owner needs to be the strategic leader. If you’re not there yet, don’t despair. It won’t take as long as you think to bring order to your organization and I’m sure by now you can see the massive payoff involved.
When you throw open the doors and windows to let in fresh ideas there will be no turning back. When someone comes along who sees you as a great collaboration partner and the opportunity looks right, you’ll already be in the mindset to welcome them in.
See you at the cool kid’s table.