Innovating is difficult. Innovating in a controlled environment is more difficult. Dissatisfaction is perhaps the first requisite to develop innovation as a culture. The second is to consider innovation not as a management buzzword, but defined ideation process with important organizational characteristics that helps increase the number of choices for innovation management. Maintaining a culture of innovation in an ongoing and sustainable way requires….
- yes but…
- we have no time for that
- can’t be done
- let’s be realistic
- that’s not logical
- we need more research
not my responsibility
that is a MAJOR change
the market is not ready yet
we will consider the option
that’s in our future plans
since when are you the expert ?
Culture can have a huge effect on customer service. This can manifest itself in many ways but this week I have been on the receiving end of some poor customer service yet again.
This time the offending company was a courier company who shall remain nameless. I had ordered some sportswear online and was excited to receive an email the following morning telling me that my goods were with a courier and they supplied parcel tracking information. During that day I tracked my parcel from arriving at the depot to going out for delivery.
Later on the status of my parcel changed. Apparently a card had been left because nobody was at home. The next day this also happened which was strange because although nobody was at home, no cards were left. Since I had no card I did not have the contact details for the courier!!
Being fairly resourceful I tried to find contact details by searching the internet but all I found were bulletin board posts by disgruntled customers. Finally I did find a number but for the wrong part of the company. The person answering the phone was very helpful and gave me 2 further freephone numbers.
At last I could talk to someone who knew something about my parcel! A nice chap told me the name of the courier and gave me his mobile number. He also revealed my suspicions that the parcel depot left the phone off the hook because of the large number of complaints. These, he said, were mainly because of the couriers themselves.
I called the courier on his mobile and arranged delivery for Saturday morning. He was very helpful and polite so I asked him where the cards had been left. ‘I did not leave any’ he said ‘because I could not get into the security gate and that was the only option I could tick on my PDA’.
So we have overworked couriers (they are given too many parcels to actually deliver at any one time) with dodgy systems in place who seem not to trust the rest of the organisation causing huge numbers of complaints that cannot be heard because the people they do not trust (and who don’t trust them) leave the phone off the hook! Wake up guys, your customer service will not improve until you start talking (as opposed to shouting) to each other. And Mr MD you have your part to play in this too.
Just one example of how poor culture can affect a business. And to fix it? Get couriers to talk to the rest of the company in a meaningful way and stop the huge number of complaints so that the phones can be put back on the hook and used in the way in which they were originally intended.
- You have criticised an employee openly in public
- You have taken credit for the work of others
- Your employees are anxious in your presence
- You expect employees to do what you tell them without question
- You believe employees should automatically know what to do without guidance
- You shout or scream at others in the workplace
- You publicly belittle employees as a method of punishing them
- You have favourites amongst your employees and you make this known
- You dislike or fear delegating
- You constantly check the work of others and micromanage constantly
The more of the above statements you identify with, the greater the chance that you are a ‘Bad Boss’.
Think about the last time you had a ‘Good Boss’. I bet that they:
- Were humble about their own achievements
- Showed integrity
- Were knowledgeable
- Allowed people to work unhindered
- Provided support when necessary
- Were keen to try new things
And if you had a ‘Bad Boss’ they probably:
- Were never there when needed
- Wanted to know what you were doing and why
- Usually said ‘no’ when you suggested new ideas
- Made you feel as if you were not trusted
- Looked glum most of the time
- Talked about themselves a lot and listened very little
I think that you get the idea. Now which type of boss are you and what are you going to do about it?
In many cases it is our starting point that is a major weakness. Have we got our Innovation Strategy right? At what point do we commit energy and resources to bringing a new idea to market? Often the test is whether the new idea has potential for creating value for the organisation. Unless you have started a business from scratch, providing resources for your new idea may remove resources (people, money, materials) from other areas of your business. The question you must ask is not just ‘will it work?’ but ‘can we get it to work without any damage being done to our current business?’. Our Innovation Strategy is thus firmly tied to our long term objectives.
Do you go with all of your new ideas if they look like they will work? How do you select which ones to work with? Selecting idea needs to be ruthless carried out. Ask yourself the following:
- Does it work?
- Is this aligned with our objectives and company values?
- Can this be scaled up or transferred to a different cultural setting?
- Does this help or hinder our other activities
In short our inventors must develop some business capabilities!
New ideas are complex. They are often generated to solve a problem but to get an idea to market may provide further challenges. A new drug may cure a disease but it may have side effects, be expensive or difficult to package or have a short shelf life. To create value you need to show how your new idea will create value for your customer perhaps through time, cost or efficiency savings. You cannot simply say, ‘Here is the new wonder drug’ and expect hospitals to be placing orders immediately.
How high do you set the bar when testing your ideas? Do you use objective or subjective tests? It is better to have a mixture of both and ensure that all of the criteria that you identify are met. Another way of testing is to use existing customers. They are often flattered when you think they are worthy of trialling your very latest innovation! But, not everyone does this!
A huge potential problem area is the window in time where your idea or prototype is turned into reality. Your development team throw the idea over the wall into production and think ‘job done’. Until you are selling gizmos buy the lorry load, everybody should still be contributing although the balance will change. You will need more human resources than you thought and also more cash. There is also a danger of stagnation as your new product or service falls into the gap between development and production. A highly motivated and charismatic leader is needed to ensure to see things through.
Do you have everything you need to get your new idea into the market? Have you considered external partners, especially if this might improve your success rate? Even if you have, how ready are you in terms of a) people b) protecting intellectual property? Sometimes the ‘missing ingredient’ needs to come from elsewhere.
Even when you have considered all of the above, have you spent time looking at the culture of innovation within our organisation? If innovation is a separate entity rather than embedded completely within the business, how do you cope with this? Do employees rotate through the innovation function and if not does this create tension? How is the learning from the development process captured and then disseminated? Just ask yourself, does the way we do things round here help our hinder our innovation efforts? You will be surprised at the impact that small changes can have.
For the past few years I have had a survey on the front page of my website. I ask one simple question ‘What is the MAJOR factor that hinders creativity within your organisation? The options available are strategic barriers, organisational culture, corporate culture, process/structure, learning capacity, leadership/management.
Apart from the early days when the sample size was not large enough, the results have changed very little. At the time of writing the results are as follows:
- Strategic barriers 6.36%
- Organisational culture 28.18%
- Corporate culture 13.64%
- Process/structure 12.73%
- Learning capacity 4.55%
- Leadership/management 34.55%
In my view, the two interesting points are the extremes. Very few people were highlighting strategic barriers (filtering, mindsets, risk profile etc) or the ability for their organisations to learn when these are potentially huge issues for an organisation embracing Creativity and/or Innovation. Also, since we have seen a global recession and financial crises, I would have expected these percentage figures to change as a result of ‘digging in’ during a crisis or through loss of capacity due to downsizing.
It is not a surprise that over 34% of respondents blame Leadership and Management. Whether or not senior figures really are to blame, they are always likely to be a scapegoat. Once again I would have expected the results to change in troubled times. The biggest surprise of all is the number of people who selected organisational culture as the major factor that hinders creativity.
Organisational culture is organic and is largely down to the employees. Even when a company is strict rather than benevolent, organisational culture tends to triumph. Have we not all heard of people banding together in the face of adversity? People are not saying that the culture is bad, just that it hinders creativity! Puzzling, so what does this mean? Without asking more searching questions (find out about our Innovation toolkit to get this information) we can’t really say why these results are not changing when we expect them to, although one possibility is that the reasons behind the figures have changed.
Finally, as well as being blamed directly, senior managers are also indirectly responsible for culture and structure. If your company had figures such as this and had troubles with creativity and innovation related issues then I would definitely want to do some digging. The chances are, a change of personnel is required somewhere!!
There is no manual that says exactly how to do this or how much you are likely to spend innovating but here is a common sense approach that seems to work well. Imagine that you are a company that needs to introduce 5 new products into the market place. First of all you need to spend some time generating ideas. Without knowing your actual method of idea generation and until you have had time to calibrate your own process then this is a bit of ‘wetted finger in the air’ calculation. We know that the ration of truly wacky ideas to those that might be worth looking at is one order of magnitude i.e. 10 to 1. Similarly, the ratio of ‘might be worth looking at’ to ‘definitely worth a look’ is once again an order of magnitude.
So if we want to have just one idea that is worth pursuing then we should expect to generate at least 100 crazy ideas, thus our small company wishing to create 5 new products will need at least 500 crazy ideas. So far so good, but how do we generate the ideas? You could collect them in a suggestion box but the quality would be variable and it may take a while although the cost would be low. An idea generation session with a group of people could generate your ideas in less than a day. This would be more expensive and would only use a ‘snapshot’ of the expertise and knowledge available to you.
By now you should get the idea that we can roughly work out how many ideas are required, and how long this would take and the resources that would be used. Not all ideas make it to products so some extra redundancy needs to be built in, and then there are overheads such as management and the costs of prototyping and manufacture, but these should be aspects with which you are already familiar.
So there you are, a simple way of working out your Innovation costs. But hang on a minute, life is not quite that simple. Below is a list of other things that you might wish to consider:
- HR requirements (culture, motivation, working practices)
- Idea capture systems (how do you record ideas and avoid forgetting them)
- Knowledge transfer (what worked, what did not, avoiding reinventing the wheel)
- Feedback for improving all aspects of your process (including estimating costs!)
This is a simple guide but good enough to allow you to get some sort of handle on the cost of Innovation if you have never done anything quite like this before. Reality is a little more complex – good luck.
The message from myself and many others banging the innovation drum is relatively simple. Embrace innovation and you have a unique competitive advantage. You will be able to fully exploit the skills of your workforce, develop new products, services or processes according to your type of business and most importantly of all you will create a business that is sustainable and which will survive not only the current economic crisis but any that may occur in the future. So why do you not take action, why do you think the risk is too high – or to put it another way, what are you scared of?
First of all, let us look at risk. What is it? In its simplest guise it is just circumstances or events about which we know nothing or very little. So the more we know about something, the smaller the risk. Actually the likelihood of something bad happening may not actually change as we acquire knowledge ,but the fear associated with the potential risk may decrease or vanish. So CEOs may in fact be suffering from a fear of failure or looking foolish rather than actually considering the actual risks or benefits to their organisation.
What can be done to help? If we could provide you with the following, would that help?
- An understanding of what is involved in leading an Innovative organisation – let’s remove the surprises
- Support in providing awareness and education for managers and staff – everyone must know where they fit in
- A proven methodology/framework so that you know what you are doing
- A method of measuring innovation directly so you know where your money is being spent
- New techniques to help you predict and plan for the future
- Provision of some ongoing support
Would this help alleviate the risks so that you can harvest the benefits of Innovation? If not then Innovation may not be for you and sadly your long term future does not look too rosy.
Over and out!