If there’s one thing that separates great companies from the rest of the pack, it’s that they are never afraid of change. When the world or their industry changes around them — as it often does — great companies rise to the challenge, and ensure they aren’t left behind.
Innovation can come in different packages. For some it’s innate – innovation is constantly happening, thanks to a culture that fosters great ideas. For others, it is harder to come by, and is often hired in through new talent, or bought through acquisition.
The third kind, however, are those that fear innovation and actively stamp it out, afraid that a new product, or something entirely different, will cannibalise what that company has already.
The famed book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, suggests this fear is natural in all companies, and that all will naturally squeeze out internal innovation. But there are ways of ensuring staff are incentivised to disrupt themselves, before they are themselves disrupted. Here are a couple:
Disgruntled staff are unproductive staff. Those that do not feel committed to the company will not think twice before leaving for greener pastures, to startup a new company with their own idea, or even head for a rival.
Providing employees with an incentive to innovate and constantly suggest new ideas is a great way to ensure staff are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient, or provide new revenue for the company. Should a staff member provide an idea that can be turned into a minimum viable product — a new system, tool or process that improves the business or opens up new markets — reward them with cash bonuses, a promotion or a way to take charge of that idea. Most importantly, recognise, congratulate and thank those who make the effort to try something new for the good of the company.
Having a culture that incentivises and rewards innovation will ensure staff and executives themselves are open to disruption. Too often, great ideas are overlooked when a company does not embrace change, and as a result, a competitor might beat you to the chase.
Be flexible and break down siloes
Creativity and innovation often knows no bounds. Businesses that seek to bind staff into strict, quantifiable key performance indicators are unlikely to get the best performance out of them. After all, it’s not the day–to–day activities that are likely to yield an entirely new product or service.
Instead, companies should be flexible. Those siloes that looked so good in an organisational structure written down won’t foster entrepreneurship and innovation if the two staff members that are most likely to innovate together are forbidden from working with one another. Give them time, and freedom, and the results could be significant.
Provide dedicated innovation time
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but many of the market–leading products we use today were born in one. Employees with a creative spark often have great ideas but lack the the time in their day job to foster them.
Google News, Gmail and Adsense were all prototyped during Google’s famous 20 per cent time, which allows staff to work on their own projects one day a week. Facebook has Hackamonth and Atlassian introduced ShipIt Days, all for similar purposes; allow staff to move away from the day-to-day, and test their creativity on a new project.
These short bursts or hackathons won’t work for every company, and won’t always yield world–shattering ideas, but they are characteristic of a company that openly encourages and embraces new ideas, rather than one that quashes them.
Buy in or separate innovation
Acquiring innovative new services and products is a potential way for ageing companies to delve into new areas or drastically improve old ones. Microsoft, a traditional bastion of productivity, has been on an acquiring spree recently, buying apps like Sunrise, Wunderlist, and Accompli to significantly improve its calendar and email capabilities.
For others, the ‘internal startup’ has worked wonders. By separating a team from the rest of the company, IBM built the desktop PC in a fraction of the time it would have normally. These sorts of structures allow staff to create something innovative without worrying about being squashed by HR or Finance.
Recognise innovation when you see it
Blockbuster thought they were a retail business, but people went there to rent movies. Wedded to their physical stores, they turned down an early opportunity to acquire Netflix, which focused on providing movies in a more efficient way. It became the biggest mistake in the company’s history and its ultimate downfall.
Similar stories are told of Kodak. It invented the digital camera, but didn’t think the technology would take off, and instead of fostering its growth, quashed it.
In both cases, and many others, established companies had the chance to reinvent themselves, and disrupt their market before their own business was cannibalised.
The world is constantly evolving, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the old.
Someone in your company could have the next big idea — be sure to foster this creativity so you don’t lose out.
About the author:
This article was written by Anthony Woodward, CEO and co-founder at Bulletproof, one of Australia’s leading cloud providers,