by Patrick Stroh, author of “Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win!” and “Advancing Innovation”
To stay relevant these days, your company must innovate or die. For many leaders, scarier words have never been spoken. But it might take the pressure off to realize the I-word doesn’t necessarily mean what you think. An “innovation” doesn’t have to be a hot new product worthy of Steve Jobs or a Eureka! moment that transforms your company. Setting your sights on achieving a steady stream of tiny incremental innovations can be an incredibly powerful approach.
It’s easy to be intimidated if you believe you must constantly come up with big, market-disrupting inventions. This mindset can paralyze you or, conversely, send you down a costly wrong path.
The truth is, an innovation can be a revamped business process or a tweak to a manufacturing technique or a change in the way you work with a supplier — as long as it adds to customer value, it counts. Better to hardwire your culture so that people are driven and equipped to constantly be looking for small and medium-size innovations (versus just big breakthrough advancements).
For example, here are five small innovations that can make a big difference in your company:
1. Document and improve your employee onboarding process.
In large companies, new employees can get lost. Small or midsize businesses are easier to navigate, but there can be a lot of undocumented “tribal knowledge” that’s hard for employees to access and understand. Document a solid onboarding process that doesn’t just focus on providing “basics” like systems and facilities access but on arranging “meet-n-greets” with leaders and department heads. This will get the employee engaged quickly and drive value.
2. Increase your On-Time Delivery (OTD) metric by 1 percent.
This sounds small, but can actually be huge! It necessitates some analysis on determining your OTD rate and finding out rationale for why the misses occurred. Then, employees can begin to dissect how they could head off those issues in the future. In doing this, they will likely find much more than 1 percent worth of improvements — but asking for only 1 percent makes it a palatable request.
3. If your OTD efforts succeed, do the same thing again — this time focused on quality.
How can we increase our customer acceptance rate and/or decrease quality defects? Ask and ye shall receive.
4. Implement Net Promoter Score (NPS) with your customers.
For example, you might ask a customer during an engagement, “On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that you would recommend [your product/brand] to a friend or colleague?” By asking this one simple question, you can put a focus on what your NPS rate is, discuss how to improve it, and benchmark against other companies. You can’t improve what you don’t measure — and NPS starts with one simple question.
5. Conduct one small business challenge in your organization.
Take an existing business problem — either one you are experiencing within the business or one that you know your customers are experiencing — and solicit ideas on how to improve. This may start out to be a simple, small task, but you may find that your employees are very engaged and natural problem solvers with multiple responses. If this exercise is successful, make it a regular innovation channel and solicit, evaluate, and implement more solutions to today’s business issues.
Patrick Stroh is president of Mercury Business Advisors, providing management advisory services in business strategy, innovation, and product development, and author of “Advancing Innovation: Galvanizing, Enabling & Measuring for Innovation Value!” and”Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win!“. He serves on the board of directors for the Institute of Management Accountants and was also appointed as a fellow in Palladium’s Positive Impact Research Institute.