One of the main factors that drive business is innovation. Innovation is what allows you to be more efficient, more productive, and more successful on almost every level. If you don’t innovate, you stagnate and get left behind by your competitors.
How do you drive innovation in your company, though? How do you recognize it when you see it, and how do you implement it without the confusion or upheaval that often stems from systemic change? What kind of things stand in the way of innovation, and how do you navigate around them? Here’s everything you need to know about innovation in the workplace.
Examples of Innovation in the Workplace
When you think of innovation, you probably think of new technology. But that’s only one aspect of it. Innovation in business can encompass just about anything. It can be a new machine that helps you manufacture more units at a faster rate, without sacrificing quality. It can be a new software platform. It can be a new company policy on how to interact with customers. It can be a new marketing campaign. Or it can be a new product or service that your company offers.
Whatever form it takes, innovation should do one of three things. It should improve the status quo of your company. It should solve a problem. Or it should help you reach customers more effectively. Many innovations will tick more than one of those boxes, and some tick all three.
For instance, say you’re having trouble with customer retention. You’re bringing in a fair amount of new customers, but not many of them stick around to make another purchase. You do some research and discover that you’re not following up with them as well as you could after the sale, and they tend to forget about you.
There are several innovations you could implement to solve this problem. You could invest in marketing automation software that measures customer interactions helps nurture their relationship with your company, even after the sale is completed.
You could send out a coupon code offering existing customers a discount on their next sale, or offer them a free gift as a Thank You. You could instruct sales reps to call customers a few weeks after a sale to see if they’re satisfied with their purchase and if there’s anything else they need.
You might choose one of these paths, or something completely different, depending on how your company operates and what you think would be most effective for your situation. But without innovation, the issue will never be resolved, your company will never move forward, and you’ll ultimately be left behind.
How to Implement Innovation in the Workplace
Once you understand what innovation is and what it can do, the next question is, how do you implement it in your company?
A. Recognizing Innovation
In order to implement innovation, first, you need to be open to it. It can come from anyone and anywhere. Don’t be afraid to take suggestions from employees at every level of your organization. They’re the ones doing the actual work, so they’re the ones closest to the situation you’re trying to improve.
Look to customers for innovative ideas as well. What worked and didn’t work for them about their interactions with your company? How would they like to be able to interact going forward, and what improvements would they like to see?
B. Knowing Your Priorities
Once you’ve collected these ideas, you need to be able to analyze and prioritize them. Which ones are the most necessary for the progress of your organization? Which ones are most likely to do the most amount of good? For instance, the customer who says lower prices will entice them to buy your product in the future may be shedding light on a legitimate cost issue in your bottom line, or they may simply be trying to score a deal on their next purchase.
Consult with experts to determine which of these innovations are the most feasible for your company in the short term, and in the long term, and which will have the biggest potential impact on your company. Then, prioritize accordingly.
Next, you need to test your innovations on a small scale. If you simply turn these ideas into company policy across the board without trying them out first to see if they work, it can lead to disaster.
Try a pilot program. Give your new software platform to a handful of employees, before imposing it on everyone. Try your new customer retention program out on a few new customers. See what works and what doesn’t about the idea. Does it have the intended results? Can anything be changed or improved to make it more effective?
It's also important, before unveiling a new policy, to gain support for it, from your employees and your shareholders. Show them the results of your tests and explain to them the impact these innovations could have companywide. Tell them what’s expected of them, and help them understand why it will be better, not just for the company, but for them as individuals as well.
Then, once you’ve implemented your innovation across the board, it’s important to examine the impact that it has. Look for ways to learn from the experience and improve it, so that you can continue to innovate and move forward.
Barriers to Change and Innovation in the Workplace
Even when you know you’re doing something that will improve the workplace for everyone, the process of implementing innovation is rarely a smooth one. There are all sorts of barriers and obstacles you’ll encounter along the way.
i. Fear of the Unknown
Perhaps the most pervasive obstacle is simply fear. We all tend to fear things that are new and unfamiliar and resist them, even if they’re good for us. A new software platform may make employees’ workflows much faster and much easier, but if it’s drastically different from the way they’re used to doing things, it will be difficult to get them on board.
There are a number of ways to mitigate this fear. Good leadership and good training will both help. Make the effort, before these innovations are implemented, to show everyone affected by them exactly what’s going on, how the new changes work, what makes them an improvement, and how to use them for maximum efficiency.
There are also often ways of integrating the new software, or new policies, into the old way of doing things, so that the change isn’t as drastic.
In the end, it mostly just takes time. Assuming the changes are good ones, people will gradually get used to them, and workflow will improve.
ii. Budget and Resources
Another obstacle you’re likely to encounter is budget and resources. Do you have the time, money, and personnel to implement these innovations properly? If not, you have two options: wait until you do have the resources, or implement the innovations now on a smaller scale.
Both have pros and cons. Waiting could mean delaying changes that are vital to your company and losing revenue in the process.
On the other hand, implementing changes on a smaller scale could mean cutting corners that make the changes shoddy and ineffectual, and end up doing more harm than good. Think carefully about your planned innovations before proceeding, and decide what’s best for your company.
iii. Lack of Vision
Finally, a significant barrier to innovation is a lack of focus or vision. Do you know why you’re implementing these changes? Do you know exactly what benefits you expect to glean from them, and how your company will improve going forward? Or are you just doing it because your competitors are doing it, or because it was recommended as “the latest thing”?
Without a clear vision in mind, it’s difficult to know if your innovations are, in fact, succeeding the way they’re supposed to. At every step in the innovation process, it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind. Make sure your entire company understands why these changes are taking place, what your ultimate goal is, and how these innovations can get you there.
One of the worst things your company can be is comfortable. If you’re not growing and moving forward, then you’re being left behind. This is why innovation in the workplace is so important. It’s not just a one-time thing, but an ongoing process of growth and change.
We can help you find, understand, and implement innovation in your workplace, and navigate the obstacles and barriers that might stand in your way.