So if success can bring complacency, then what is a business to do? The opposite of complacency is innovation. A company above all else needs to innovate. No matter the industry, a company must always look for new ways to discuss problems. Innovation comes from a culture that thrives on change. I have seen several amazing businesses that could have had significant growth. The only problem was they lacked the desire and culture to change. The owners were mired in their own inability to seek out and find ways to fix new problems. Their work ethic and drive had gotten them as far as it could, but they could not get over what worked in the past. Their motto’s have usually been “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The assumption was that success would compound without further effort on their part. Success works the same way as compound interest, to be successful over significant periods of time a person needs to deposit into their proverbial bank account of success. Here are my five rules for innovation:
Rule 1: Embrace Change
I have worked at companies before that talked a good talk about embracing change but when it came down to it the majority of them used the talk of change as verbal platitudes to make themselves feel better about their lack of change. The companies who actually embrace change were ones who would constantly test their processes to improve them or tweak them to make them better. Although I have never worked at Google, I have read articles about how they will tweak just a very small aspect of their search engine and then roll it out to some of their users to see how that feature does, if the feature is well liked they will roll it out to the rest of their users. If it does not do well then they will try something else until enough people like it. The key here is not to get too set on any one way to do something (of course exceptions like laws and ethics). If you are a business owner or manager ask your employees if they have suggestions on how to do something. Because they are the day-to-day users they would have the most insight into how to improve something. Another option is to hire a business consultant to test the processes or item. Someone who is not influenced by company culture or has to work with the product every day. A fresh set of eyes on a process or product may give you more information that you were lacking before. Do not be afraid to admit that you do not have all the answers and be flexible enough to find those who do.
Rule 2: Avoid Groupthink
When you consider that an employee’s livelihood is determined in large part by what the manager, supervisor, or owner thinks it is no wonder that Groupthink occurs in almost every company to one degree another. Who has not felt the pressure to agree with a superior just because they are the superior? Even if the superior is either ill-informed or just plain wrong. There are two sides to this coin, a company should embrace free expression (within reason) to help the company build and grow. I have known several employees who really loved their jobs, however their supervisors were unwilling to listen to them. The atmosphere of the company or department was that the supervisor was always right (even if they actually were wrong) and it was the role of the employee to agree. The other side of the coin is that employees should not feel like if they disagree with their supervisor they are going to lose their job. Of course all disagreements should be done civilly and once the decision has been made it is no longer the responsibility of the employee to challenge it. An employee that challenges the supervisor’s ideas can help vet the idea and make it better or in some instances reduce potential problems. It is not bad to have an employee disagree, it gives you the opportunity to really test the idea and make it better.
Rule 3: Be Creative
When I am lying in bed at night just before I am about to fall asleep I find that my mind is the most pliable. Solutions to problems occur to me because my mind is not bombarded by the events of the day. My mind is able to allow ideas to process because it does not limit the possibilities. When you have a situation at work that needs some attention try having a team of people (some related to the project and some not) sit in a room and come up with solutions. I mean every possible solution no matter how absurd or unlikely the solution: list it! Then after each idea, write out how that particular idea could be applied. Do this until each idea has been thoroughly evaluated. Then pick the most likely, least likely, and ideal solution. By now you will have a pretty good idea of the direction you will be headed, but do not limit yourself. Go for the gold! Go for the ideal solution and use the most likely solution as a backup, if those do not work then you have listed all the ideas and can work through the other ones. Do not sell yourself or your employees short by always playing it safe with the goal of the most likely solution. The people who experience the most success are the ones that always go for the gold.
Rule 4: Have Fun
Innovation (change) happens when work is exciting and interesting. If your employees are bored out of their minds, they will not want (or be able) to innovate or help create change. If they feel like their jobs are absolute drudgery (I’ve been there, done that) it may not be the best fit for them. They may have aspirations that go beyond the scope of their current role. Seek these employees out and help them with their goals, give them an opportunity to excel in an area of the company that does inspire them. If there are no positions available, then help them find the joy in their current position until something opens up. Unfortunately despite all these efforts at the end of the day it is not your role as an employer to fulfill everyone’s wishes. You may have to let the employee go. It will be better for them and certainly better for you. Not everyone is going to fit in your company. Create a culture that works hard but always allow time for fun. Have company picnics, go see a sports team, play golf together, etc. Do something that does not involve work. Give out movie tickets (or other rewards) for no other reason than it is a good day. Surprise employees with a lunch out or bring in healthy snacks for the office to share. I can tell you that the little things supervisors and managers do to make the days better are important.
Rule 5: Don’t Stop…believing
Many supervisors or managers will attend a leadership or management seminar then return to their respective offices, apply the techniques they have learned for a week or perhaps maybe a month and then give up. It isn’t intentional, it is just that they get so wrapped up in day-to-day life that they forget or they do not make time for it. The same tools that brought them success in the first place are replaced and they fall back into old habits and patterns. They stop listening, they stop being creative, and most importantly they stop having fun. If you want to have long-lasting success you have to continually improve and innovate. It cannot be that you only work on problems creatively when you feel like it or that you listen to people when you are in a good mood. You cannot expect cultural changes to occur if you continually revert to your old habits. I guarantee that the success of your company is linked with your attitude. If you believe you can be successful then it will permeate every thing you do. You will continue to deposit into your success account because over time, it will add up and your once fledgling company can grow into the company of your dreams (whatever that may be).
There you have it my rules for innovation and change, at the end of the day if you are not constantly improving and adapting someone else will. I could list a myriad of companies who are no longer in business because they refused to adapt, your company does not need to be one of them. The rain and the sun shine on all companies alike, it is what you choose to do with it that will make the difference. The true measure of any company is not when times are easy, but when they are difficult. A company’s ability to adapt and grow in the face of adversity will decide their level of success.