October 12, 2018
If you want to thrive over the long term, you must innovate. And the key to driving innovation and growth is not to become complacent after a success. Innovation must occur continually. These four steps will position your company to innovate and grow over the long term:
Don’t jump too fast from today to the future. There is a problem looming on the horizon—disruption is coming. But customers don’t fully see it yet, and the products and services being offered today meet their needs.
The challenge for leaders is to keep customers engaged and participating as the company evolves. Customers need to see themselves in the future vision of the company. A bridge must be built that spans into the future with a series of incremental innovations as the building blocks.
Although coming up with a vision for the future is important, so is helping customers see how they fit in and why that future will leave them better off than they are today. Missing this step will drive your customers away. But doing it well will cement your relationship as a forward-thinking, customer-focused organization.
Create an environment for idea generation. Walk into any popular coffee shop and you’ll see nearly every seat taken by a person working on a computer. The buzz and energy drive the people there to be productive. The environment is ideal.
Ideas aren’t generated in stale conditions and environments devoid of stimulation. Furthermore, not all environments work for everyone. Understanding the conditions that bring out the best in your people is important to generating ideas. Once you know those conditions, you can create a physical environment that inspires ideas and supports interactions with co-workers.
Don’t dilute your focus. How effective are you when you’re working on 20 things at the same time? Probably not effective at all. But if you narrow your focus to prioritize one item at a time, you’ll find you can make a lot of progress quickly.
The same is true with the need to prioritize ideas and innovations as your culture of innovation takes hold. It won’t be possible for all the ideas generated to get resources, time, and money to move them toward completion. Nor will they all be successful. It’s important to have criteria for selecting the ideas that will move forward. If you are in a fast-follower position, someone else has already done a proof of concept. But if not, you’ll need to decide which products or services to move forward.
Put top talent in places where they can have outsized impact. Leaders of high-performing companies know that it isn’t enough to have top talent. These people also need to be in places where their contributions can be leveraged in a way that propels the organization forward farther and faster.
When I was chief financial officer at Longview Fibre, having top talent in the right places was critical. Talent had to excel when hired and have the bandwidth to grow along with the business. To do this, we hired strategically in a number of areas. One individual was hired with a sole focus on improving operations. He developed a long list of innovations and improvements and worked collaboratively with operations and finance to prioritize those that would have the largest impact and highest returns.
Innovations were both internal and external. They moved in tandem to ensure that the organization could keep pace in delivering products to customers. In all cases, systems and work processes were streamlined to move ideas forward more quickly and eliminate friction points that would slow down work.
The key to being successful is to understand the lifespan of your business model, get the right people in the right places, and create an environment that supports innovation. Thriving over the long term depends on your ability to shift and get ahead of changing customer and market dynamics.