Innovation is often associated with changing technology or the implementation of a new solution. In reality, innovation is merely doing things differently and more effectively than you have in the past. Innovation isn’t as complex as it may seem—you just have to be open to change.
Innovation may seem like more of a luxury than a necessity. According to a recent Sage study, more than a third of small businesses globally say they’re too swamped to explore new ideas. However, in today’s constantly changing business environment, you can’t afford to only do what you’ve always done. You and your organization need to believe change is necessary in order to thrive.
In fact, I’ve heard business leaders say, “If you’re not changing, you’re dying.” I think there’s a lot of truth in this statement, since there’s one thing you can be certain of: the world you’re operating in is changing, starting with what your customers want and how your competition is reacting.
Don’t forget what motivated you to get where you are. It takes a lot of forward-thinking to grow a business, and innovation is as important today as when you started out. From products and services to marketing, sales, and support, you may have to change the way you approach all parts of the business.
Follow these nine tips to inspire transformation within your organization:
Continue learning. Take every chance to learn and grow by visiting your customers, attending workshops and conferences, and participating in online communities related to your industry. Attending events and spending time with your peers (who share similar interests, goals, and struggles) will give you the motivation and courage to try new things. It will also provide a valuable forum for identifying how and what to change.
Stay current. Read relevant business books and publications to keep up with industry trends, and quickly adapt to changing business landscapes. For instance, learning about the power of mobile and social media can help you open up new opportunities to interact with customers.
Open the doors to collaboration. Create a culture that empowers employees to share their ideas. By encouraging everyone to participate in innovating, you’ll inspire creativity and possibly tap into potential you didn’t know was there. And when the next “big” idea comes along, take the plunge and start building on it immediately. There’s no time like the present.
Communicate and brainstorm. Break down barriers to innovation by communicating with each area of your business. Then determine which tasks require more collaboration from your employees, and build a special team of “collaborators” who will provide an overview of how well the whole business operates together and ideas for improvement. Along the same lines, hold a monthly brainstorm session focused on innovation. Make sure your team knows their feedback and ideas matter, and that they can freely share ideas and challenge processes and procedures.
Go for a test drive. Want to see how your organization functions in the “real” world? Have your employees “test” different parts of your business. For instance, if you have an online presence, have employees make a purchase, process a return, and contact customer service. They should be looking for snags and thinking about possible solutions.
Engage with your customers. There’s no one better to listen to than your customers. Take their feedback seriously. Ask them how you can improve and let them know their opinions matter. Use tools like Instagram, Facebook, and mobile apps to build relationships.
Bring out the creativity. The days of companies with high-walled cubicles and punching clocks are behind us. Today’s business environment should inspire creativity and idea sharing. Consider creating open seating areas where small groups can meet. Carve out “thinking time” or “creative time” that’s separate from “production time.” You can’t really be creative or innovative if you don’t set time aside for it.
Build an effective team. Working with others inspires creativity. Your team should be made up of people who not only share your enthusiasm for innovation, but also make the time to identify and act upon their ideas. Your job is to foster a culture that supports creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.
Remember why you’re doing this. When you start questioning yourself, remember why you do what you do. Stay motivated and determined. Align yourself with people who share your dreams. And, don’t be afraid to implement new ideas.