Innovation is the lifeblood of all organizations. The British publication The Economist recently claimed, “Innovation is now recognized as the single most important ingredient in any modern economy”
Business is continually being told it needs to be more innovative. More and more innovation is being seen as a tool for transforming the entire culture of an organisation. Sure, a great product can be one important element in the formula for business success, but companies that want to succeed in today’s competitive environment need much more. They need innovation at every point, in all aspects of the business and among every team member.
There is growing recognition that fostering a culture of innovation is critical to success, as important as developing competitive strategies or maintaining good margins.
Where business publications once ranked companies primarily by sales, growth and profit, publications are now ranking business on their innovative track record. Today, businesses are valued less for their current offering than for their ability to change, adapt, and dream up something new. Whether you sell consumer products or financial services, the frequency with which you must innovate and replenish your offerings is rapidly increasing.
The big question is, how do you change the culture of an organisation to be more innovative?
A culture of innovation doesn’t just happen, however we all have the capability to be more innovative given the right environment, leadership, encouragement, incentives and focus.
Good ideas flow not just from the top, but from anywhere in the organisation. You can get a positive return on investment by unleashing the problem- solving abilities of all your people.
The development of a unique and sustainable great customer experience is a good example of the need to develop a strong innovative culture that involves everyone in the process. Trying to improve the service, you deliver to your customers by providing skill development training for front-line staff without first establishing a strong customer experience foundation will make very little long-term difference to the service received by customers and will ultimately be a cost rather than an investment.
So start by asking, what is truly important to your customers. The answer may be something small, irrational and completely surprising. However, finding the answer is often crucial to your success.
Identify all the “touch points” between your customers and your organisation, evaluating your performance at each of these touch points, may trigger an area of improvement or new ideas on how you could do things differently.
Asking your customers to give feedback on areas you need to improve will only improve your current performance; customers rarely give you insights into where you need to be in the future, however using this information to improve your current performance is a great first step.
It should go without saying that a company should listen carefully to its front-line people. After all, these are the people who deliver your customer experience, they will know if something needs to be changed and how, but so many times businesses don’t listen, people aren’t encouraged to come forward and creative minds assume their ideas will go no further than a managers in-tray.
An innovative company attracts and keeps better people; people want to be part of something creative it’s stimulating and its fun.
Here are 10 things you can do to foster a culture of innovation and creativity.
1) Know that every challenge has many possible solutions. If you believe that you and your team can find a better way, you can. Ensure you capitalise on all the innovation and creativity that exists within your organisation.
2) All too often tasks and projects creep into your companies that are not necessarily in keeping with your customer experience foundation.
Make sure everything you do is aligned and will produce the results intended.
3) Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s still the best way. Question constantly the way you do things.
4) Don’t accept the first solution as the right way. Open up the challenge to as many people as possible and take the time to consider all possibilities.
5) Have fun, things that are fun get done, more often. Schedule regular sessions in a relaxed environment, you will find this generates far more ideas than in a formal meeting situation.
6) Get familiar with other industries and look at the ways they deliver their customer experience. Often you find these ideas can be adapted to your industry or business.
7) Always approach your innovative solutions from the customer perspective, rather than from an operational perspective.
8) Take time out to do nothing. It’s difficult to open your mind to new possibilities when you are already doing things.
9) Focus your mind on the issue and ask for a solution, rather than continually focusing on the problem and the pain its maybe causing.
10) Listen to your customers, they may know the answer or have been trying to give you the solution, its just you have not been actively listening. A complaint or an off the cuff comment, could hold the answer.
Chris Bell is managing director of Customer Experiences, a company that specialises in helping businesses improve the way in which they interact with customers and clients- firstname.lastname@example.org www.customerexperiences.co.nz