A primer on how to introduce innovation into your corporate culture without alienating employees, suppliers, and customers in the process.
It’s no secret that words like “change,” “innovate,” and “transform” tend to make people nervous. In fact, these words can put fear in the hearts of executives, employees, suppliers, and even customers – particularly those that operate with the mindset of, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” This mentality can keep distributorships on the hamster wheel for decades, particularly in family-run firms where such inertia is seen as a sign of loyalty to and respect for the family name.
But it’s 2016, and it’s time to rock the apple cart a little by introducing some innovation into the mix. With technology changing at the speed of light, new products and solutions hitting the market at a faster pace, and customer preferences and needs constantly in flux, leading distributorships know that there’s no room for complacency in today’s business world.
Focusing on Innovation and Agility
But what happens when innovation and change threaten to throw employees and business partners into a tailspin? In other words, how can an electrical distributor “keep the peace” while also developing a corporate culture that’s focused on innovation and agility?
It starts with acknowledging the fact that change isn’t fun for anyone. “People like their comfort zones, but when they stay in those zones they miss out on opportunities,” says Faisal Hoque, a serial entrepreneur, founder of SHADOKA, and author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability. “When you attempt something different, people get scared.”
Whether they are small in scale (a new piece of business software) or large in size (an entirely new corporate mission statement), the changes can impact a wide swath of key people. With this in mind, Hoque sees clear communication as a foundational tool for companies that want to innovate without alienating any of those individuals.
“Making sure people understand the purpose of the change and innovation is extremely important,” says Hoque. “There’s no way to start working towards a common goal until everyone understands what it is and what’s expected of them to help achieve it.”
For example, he says motivational leaders should be approachable and open to dialogue “so that everyone they’re trying to motivate can ask questions and share their own ideas.” This, in turn, helps instill a culture of innovation across the distributorship and ensures that everyone actively participates in the process (and doesn’t just have new “rules” and “orders” dictated to them).
“This communication style means not just clearly articulating your message, but also listening actively—without bias or judgment and with a real willingness to consider a different perspective,” Hoque continues. “It’s about trading messages respectfully and accurately, not just delivering them. Paying heed to their factual as well as emotional content is what allows for better mutual understanding.”
Keep Pushing That Button
With customers asking for more from the organizations that serve them, innovation has become a necessary part of doing business. But to be truly innovative, a new idea or initiative must satisfy a particular need, be replicable (and at an economical cost), and has to provide a new level of value for customers. It should also be useful, meet customers’ expectations, and do more than just “dust off” an existing service or solution and try to make it better.
Faisal Hoque sees solid potential for distributors that put the time and effort into bold innovation. “For the most part, distributors focus on selling services to others, so there’s real opportunity for them on the business innovation side,” says Hoque. “That could mean improving the way a specific product or service is delivered, how the company interacts with its customers, and/or how it internally manages its own resources. There’s a lot of potential for improvement in those and other areas.”
The good news, says Hoque, is that bold innovation doesn’t have to break the bank, nor does it have to take years to implement. Once you decide on a specific area where bold innovation is both necessary and feasible, you can begin making incremental improvements that result in “serious bottom and top line impacts,” he explains. For example, knowing that the distribution model typically revolves around customer interaction, customer service, and order delivery, he says companies can dig down into this “customer care cycle” and come up with ways to improve and innovate the related activities.
“Ask yourself how well you’re evaluating and understanding your customers’ needs,” Hoque suggests, “and then come up with process improvements (i.e., a more user-friendly e-commerce offering, a mobile app for ordering on the fly, etc.) that help you better serve those customers.” Look at it from the customer’s point of view, he adds, and be sure to include both pre- and post-sale activities as part of that process (as in, it’s not just about making the sale and delivering the product).
Hoque cautions distributors not to over-complicate the innovation process—something that small to midsized firms are prone to do. “Don’t overthink it,” he says, “but don’t be loose and unorganized about the process either. The goal is to strike a good balance and focus on delivering a consistent level of service and attaining efficiencies that help your top- and bottom-line performance. “If you’re not being efficient, you’ll wind up spending too much money on this,” says Hoque. “The goal is to just keep pushing that button to make your operations better and better. That’s what sustained innovation is all about.”
Leading Roles, Not People
In Big Idea 2015: Rethinking Leadership for Creativity & Innovation, Hoque says that in order to connect individuals to the organization for creativity and innovation, leaders need to realize the following three key points:
Leaders curate talent. Building an organization is the gathering of people for a common cause. Gathering the right people together at the right time is curation.
People need freedom. To do their best work, people need to feel like they’re able to bring all of their effort into the task, which requires an open, autonomy-oriented culture.
People need structure. This is not anarchy; with freedom comes responsibility. Responsibility can be ensured with both quantitative and qualitative methods—and springs from a thriving culture.
“So how do we lead in ways that help people to grow, rather than tell people to grow? To want to work, rather than have to work?” Hoque asks. “By leading and managing roles, not people.”
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals.
[Image: Flickr User Mark Southgate]
Original article @tEDMagazine.