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    February-2013  


Innovation Needs To Be Encouraged, Rewarded In Small Businesses

Small businesses often succeed by being innovators

Maintaining innovation within a small business requires a total commitment to thinking outside the box and encouraging unorthodox approaches.

Unfortunately, many smaller firms fail to maintain the innovative initiative after finding a successful formula.

Robert F. Brands, a veteran of companies like GTE, Kohler and Rexam, and president and founder of InnovationCoach.com, says there is a course of action that should be followed in order to create and sustain innovation in a business.

To help leaders deliver profitable growth, from proven experience, he has developed Ten Imperatives in “Robert’s Rules of Innovation” that address the all elements that lead to a successful and sustainable innovation strategy.

Brands believes these imperatives create a holistic approach that each need to be in place and reinforced over time:

Inspire & Initiate – An innovation leader must drive the process.
No Risk, No Innovation – Be willing to takes risks and tolerate failure.
New Product Development Process – Develop a process that all business functions are aware of and follow.
Ownership – Innovation needs ownership - a champion within the organization.
Value Creation – Develop an innovation with high perceived value to your customer.
Accountability – Communicate clear expectations to everyone on the team.
Training & Coaching – Share, learn and master best practices. Continuity is key.
Idea Management – Harness ideas for long-term development.
Observe & Measure – Set metric goals and track them.
Net Results, Net Reward – Recognize and reward the people who have helped the company achieve its goals.

Brands argues that managers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help from all members of the team and from departments that are often ridden off as “not creative.” Hold regular meetings and ideation sessions and reach out to marketing, finance, sales, customer service, and any or all other departments. If managers clearly communicate the goals of the organization and what’s expected of individuals, they will be held accountable for participation.

Encourage an open thought process without fear of failure. Risk-taking is a necessary part of innovation, and ideas that do not work today can be altered or used down the road. Encourage, inspire and initiate the team to be creative and to make breakthroughs. By openly communicating and providing ample support, team members will trust in the leader and see him as a person who wants to inspire a culture of innovation.

 How to evaluate?

 It’s human nature to look back at past results as a basis for comparison and for improvement in the future. For this reason, it is absolutely essential to carefully observe and measure performance. To sustain Innovation, companies need to continuously improve their new product development capabilities. Quantitative and qualitative measurements of new product development will lend insights into a company’s strengths and weaknesses.Look at leading and lagging indicators for how the new product development process is going. Leading indicators such as the number of new ideas in the database, number of projects in the hopper, patents applied to, and amount of time and resources spent are all important information that give you insight. Lagging indicators could include number of new products introduced, patents granted, new product sales in the first three years after launch, and how close the team is getting to the goal of introducing “at least one new product per year.”

How to Implement?

 It’s important to set definitive goals in innovation – whether it is a percentage of sales growth or number of products to bring to market – and within what timeframe. Then develop a plan for how those goals will be achieved, such as regular monthly new product development meetings. Monitor progress, make new decisions and set target goals for the next meeting to steer the innovation process along. Innovation is the lifeblood of any organization and in order to achieve it, small business owners should lead by example. An innovation coach can implement structured repeatable processes that a team needs to sustain innovation, as well as provide feedback and support to all members of the team.


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