A recent study of employees and decision makers by Accenture in the USA entitled ‘Enabling a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism’ found that nine out of ten respondents believed entrepreneurial attitudes can lead to new ideas that promote growth in a tough economy[i].
However, it seems the economic crisis of recent years has caused many businesses to focus on the familiar and neglect creative thinking and innovation. In doing so, they are giving the competition a serious advantage.
So what can businesses do to be more competitive? In times of adversity some of the greatest innovations have appeared and in today’s straightened times there is a healthy pressure to differentiate, become more competitive and establish more intrinsic value in the organisation.
Business managers need to establish a culture where intellectual power is harnessed to improve innovation and in so doing, motivate staff and increase productivity and profitability.
Nearly half the respondents in Accenture’s study said that management support is critical for developing an entrepreneurial spirit amongst employees, but only one in five said their company delivers it.[ii]
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Having budding entrepreneurs within a company is the dream for most business owners. These are employees who will undertake something new, without being asked to do so. These are innovative and creative people able to transform an idea into a profitable venture for the business.
These individuals are hard to find, but they can be encouraged and home grown. If companies adopt a different approach to their development and cultivate a culture where innovation and creative thinking is encouraged and supported, every employee could become more creative and entrepreneurial.
Here are some ways of encouraging creativity and innovation:
Competitors of all kinds are the minimum benchmark for which to aim. Matching a competitive offering is rarely going to suffice – always ensure you are moving to stay ahead. Look at every weakness in a competitor’s offerings and operations and use advanced brain storming tools such as ‘meta planning’ to develop and refine the winning concepts.
2 Empower and support people to implement their innovations
3 Make it clear to everyone that a business must always develop its products and services.
NEVER stand still. Even those lucky enough to have patent or intellectual property protection must seek to acquire more advantages.
4 The customer is always a good start point for innovative thinking and should be a central focus for the whole business.
The customer and their relationship is central to business success. Do not rush to copy some competitors’ ways of caring for customers (e.g. automated telephone services!). Work with your teams to develop new ways to engage with customers in a way that customers want. They will repay you over and over.
5 Employees should be treated as customers and friends
The best innovation can come from co-operation between employees – this is an effective way of bringing out entrepreneurs. Identify and appoint innovation ‘champions’ around the business.
These people will be the leaders on innovation development and manage the process. They must drive the culture.
6 There is always scope for innovation in any business function
Whether it is HR, finance, customer service, manufacturing, legal – every department can innovate and an innovation culture that embraces all the functions will be a better joined up organisation.
7 Encourage staff to look for inspiration outside the company and not to be afraid to steal other people’s ideas.
Some of the best ideas and simplest innovations are from businesses that already have had such a drive or survived times of stress. Copy best practice. Sometimes copying is the best route. However, copy it, and then improve it. Look at how the Japanese destroyed the UK motorcycle industry, they copied the UK and made the products better.
8 Get people to think the unthinkable
Many businesses suffer from internalism and parochialism which stunts growth, innovation and saps energy. Assume your business could be killed off by new entrants to the market or new innovations – people or technology based. Get people to think the unthinkable, develop thinking around scenarios that may seem unrealistic. Remember, in 2007 the idea that several banks would fail was unthinkable.
9 Lastly, companies must look forward, not back all the time.
Create a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ culture. There are ‘no but’s’; only ‘yes and’.
Empowering employees to be innovative and creative, and encouraging a ‘can do’ attitude can reap rewards for everyone – whether monetary or reward based – and companies that do this are more likely to succeed.