The sharing of ideas with your team must be a two-way street

In most successful companies, innovation and ideas come from their valued customers. For this to be the case, ideas must be brought into the company from the people that have the greatest amount of contact with customers.

Many may think that only the sales force does this. Although this is true to an extent, the responsibility is not exclusive to sales team members. In our company, we listen to our customers through the ears of our finance, purchasing, operations and sales personnel, all of whom are expected to have regular, formal interaction with our customers.

Think about it. Your accounts receivable personnel are in regular contact with your customers’ payable personnel who, believe it or not, often hear of ideas from others in their company. If you do not create an environment where everyone on your team shares a common vision for growth through customer engagement, this productive resource for innovation is lost.

It can’t be all you

Sure, as CEO of an enlightened company, you spend much of your time interacting with customers, but to think that you will be the only one to recognize innovation opportunities is foolhardy. When you do, it is critical that you present the idea to refiners and activators in your company.

This team should consist of three or four energetic employees from several layers of the reporting chain. When you present the idea, do so in a very succinct manner focusing first on what value the idea will bring to customers before you talk about how it will impact your company’s bottom line.

Then encourage critique and expansion of the idea. This will not only allow the employees to expand on your point of view, it will also identify who should lead the development project based on which employees demonstrate the greatest amount of understanding and enthusiasm.

Some CEOs discover that the roadblock to hearing about employee innovations or getting his or hers’ effectively communicated to the team lies within the executive team, i.e. the CEO’s direct reports.

Our company embraces the idea Gino Wickman presents in his book, “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business.” In it, he teaches that the executive organization chart should have the “right seats,” meaning that there is clear definition of the activities for which each position (seat) is responsible and accountable.

A strict rule in making this concept work is that although one person may sit in more than one seat, each seat can only be occupied by one person. Then, you must regularly determine if you have the right people in the right seats. If you don’t, you have likely identified an innovation bottleneck.

If you are to have a company that is truly innovative, you as CEO must set a culture that encourages creative participation at every level. Although you may have great ideas, consider yourself the facilitator. Only then will your company succeed.

Mike Baach is president and CEO at The Philpott Rubber Co.