Tony Arnold

Organizations often must overcome obstacles in order to grow through the process of innovation. The ability to do this effectively is vital to any organization’s future. But in order to get the most out of innovation, it is important to realize how it happens and how much time leadership needs to spend reviewing the pipeline and the process of innovation. You need to ensure that this process is well-defined, that it is monitored frequently and that success is measured by results.

Here are six key things you need to keep in mind if you truly want to be an innovative company:

1) Set the tone at the top

2) Define the vision and strategy

3) Establish and engage in the innovation process

4) Clarify accountabilities

5) Seek out collaborations

6) Monitor success

Initially, leaders often mistake problem solving for innovation. Problem solving is absolutely necessary as it attempts to fix what is broken and return things to the expected state. It is vital to the day-to-day operations of any good company, but alone, it will not lead to innovation. Innovation can’t just be the result of fixing a problem.

Companies who are successful innovators generally have a few things in common. First, their leaders are open to seeking out new ideas, they look to take value from the knowledge gained when mistakes are made and they are willing to actively promote the exploration of new paradigms. Additionally, these leaders will create a companywide culture to encourage true innovation and an appropriate accountability system to nurture this culture because they view innovation as an all-encompassing process, not just a role for R&D or marketing. Next, they employ a systematic evaluation and review process to set funding priorities. Finally, these companies possess the willingness to seek out collaborations when necessary.

Innovation can take several different forms. Each generally follow similar creative steps, including defining the desired outcome, conducting a gap analysis, defining a solution and developing the solution. Breaking down existing paradigms, seeking out new ideas and considering the possibilities can be challenging.  Some companies have a robust system to manage this creativity productively, while others have been less successful at innovation, despite their efforts. In both instances, companies often elect to utilize a third party to contribute, challenge, lead or facilitate the creative process.

While creativity is important to innovating, implementation and adoption of the idea are equally as relevant. Without adoption, the innovation is only a good idea which fails to deliver tangible results to the organization or make a difference to customers. Highly effective organizations assign project leaders to lead a collaborative, team-based effort and are held accountable for the process, timelines, budgets and results. These individuals may or may not be experts in the area of question. But they should possess the skills to effectively manage the project.

In certain instances, companies may have the ability to innovate solely within their organization, while others may need to access one or more technologies to enable delivery on the stated goals. The rapid introduction of new technology affords many opportunities for companies to enhance their innovation and product development process.

Successful collaboration starts with having the right mindset and understanding of what the desired outcome looks like and value that can be created for the parties involved. Some pitfalls often encountered include failure to value the other parties’ input, failure to share information, the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome, win/lose negotiating strategy, unwillingness to share value, ego, competitiveness, unrealistic contractual terms or deal structure, and not fully enabling the negotiating person or team.

Some individuals are quite capable or experienced in establishing collaborations, while others consistently confront challenges. Marketing your organization’s success as a collaborator against your competition can be a useful exercise. When effectively utilized, collaboration can spread risk and cost, but more importantly may lead to breakthrough innovations which ultimately redefine markets and create opportunities for growth.

Achieving growth through innovation requires leaders to gain alignment, commitment and buy-in across an organization to enable the organization to achieve its vision. Taking an active role and interest in the process, providing resources, supplementing skills where needed and seeking out collaborations to enable success will help innovation flourish.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage start-up and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

Successful leaders know how to get in touch with their customers, their market, their competitors and their organization. They have their finger on the pulse of the overall business environment and economic cycles. These leaders know how to use this knowledge to develop a vision and show it to their team so it’s easier to analyze opportunities and obstacles, define performance metrics, drive innovation and push for continuous improvement in every facet of the business and supply chain.

When you do all this successfully, you have a clearly defined business strategy supported by a plan and performance metrics, organizational alignment and accountability and sustainable growth.

While the process and results are seemingly obvious, the ability to effectively execute is what separates successful organizations from ones which fail. Some leaders fail to realize that their products or service offerings are not in sync with their customers’ expectations. They may have become complacent, arrogant, distracted or just unwilling to listen to or accept feedback from customers or employees. Furthermore, they may have set medium or long-term goals, which appeal to analysts or to the board but affect their ability to modify current plans when things are off track. Ultimately, the company’s performance suffers.

It’s the communication and the ability to stay disciplined that lead to effective execution. After the strategic plan is created, you have to be committed to see it all the way through to implementation and action.

Try asking yourself the following questions when you’re working on your next strategic plan:

  • Do we have the right leadership, talent, skills, business processes, resources and time to execute the plan?
  • Do we have a means of communicating the plan and defining the accountabilities throughout the organization to operate seamlessly?
  • Are timely systems in place to monitor our performance and results?
  • Do we have contingencies identified if circumstances change?
  • Are our people engaged and behind the plan?

 

Keep communicating. Take time to set a common goal that simply engages leadership at all levels in the organization to consistently communicate the vision. Communicate often and tie events back to the vision, highlighting its relevance. Create visual and frequent reminders using websites, memos, e-mails, town-hall meetings and other presentations to serve as reminders to the team of the goals and their purpose. Recognize not everyone had the time or luxury of participating in the planning sessions. Explain the logic and why the selected approach was chosen. Highlight potential risks and benefits. Describe the planned outcomes and timelines.

Define roles. People at all levels must know what work needs to be done and why their efforts are important. Conveying goals throughout the organization to all departments, managers and individuals clarifies the importance. At the same time, defining performance goals will reveal responsibility and accountability. Ideally, employees will find themselves in the vision or at least see how their role ties to the overall company objectives.

Oftentimes, teams are spread around the globe, operating in different time zones or maybe remotely. Consider if the message or communication method works across cultures, for cross-functional teams and for multiple generations. Assuming everyone is working on important projects with common or interdependent deadlines, employees should understand and value the contribution of their colleagues, while recognizing the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue to ensure alignment and clarity.

Create feedback channels. Presenting the opportunity to ask the tough questions or engage directly with the company leadership will allow employees to feel more involved with the vision. Utilize video chats and different forms of online communication to make the dialogue accessible. It is better to surface the differences and discuss the “elephant in the room” than have the organization assume you are not in touch with reality.

Stay focused. Clearly define the vision, strategy and plan so everyone is aware of the goals and objectives. Ensure consistency at all levels of management and across the organization. Be visible, engage the team and ask questions to validate understanding. Maintain a dialogue and open atmosphere to allow information to move timely and in multiple directions. Monitor and measure your progress. Provide timely and factual updates, highlighting the progress throughout the year. Be forthright and honest.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage startup and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Arnold can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

As we make our way out of the worst economic downturn in our professional lifetimes, we are challenged to engage our organizations in the effort to turn the corner and achieve growth. Leaders have historically relied upon innovation, discipline and consistency to do so. In battling through the recession, many companies were forced to cut jobs, reduce spending and make significant changes to their organizational structure.

Conscious decisions were made to focus more on internal matters and spend less to service markets and customers.

But word travels fast in the world of Twitter and customers have immediate access to information about products and companies. This enables both customers and prospects to make better choices, often without sacrificing quality or service. To keep pace, you must adapt accordingly.

Engage your people

Leadership is vital for positioning the company, developing strategies that create value and engaging people to execute those plans. You must make appropriate investments in capacity and capability, innovation and talent. Communicate your vision and goals and be certain you have alignment throughout the organization.

Many organizations are trying to reinvigorate their employees after downsizing and focus them on growth. Be certain you have the right people with the right experiences to not only perform these duties but to enable you to compete effectively. Provide an environment and resources to motivate people to manage the complexities while strengthening the business. Engage them in the process while maintaining an effective dialogue to bolster their confidence. Not only will they succeed at their jobs, but they will also creatively seek out solutions to issues and find new opportunities for the organization.

Achieving growth is highly dependent on how you lead and what you focus on. You must lead the growth initiative. Be visible, engaging and in touch but avoid becoming too hands-on.

Open your eyes

One key point that seems to have been forgotten recently is competitive intelligence. You should never lose sight of where the market and competitors are going. The competition will always seek out new opportunities and innovation, especially if you remain idle. Comparing your capabilities with your competitor’s is very worthwhile.

You also need to stay in touch with your customers and have a good knowledge of how they operate and what is important to them. Find ways to engage your customers. Listen to them and gain an understanding of their views, challenges and opportunities. This will enable you to be more effective as a leader and will show the organization what you value. Determine firsthand how your products, programs and service affect overall customer satisfaction. Confirm that you are producing and providing these at a level that meets or exceeds their expectations.

Track your efforts

Growth takes determination and foresight. Seek out growth and consider new opportunities where your company can deliver value not only in traditional markets but also in adjacent markets and new verticals.

When you know where your company can deliver value, push to drive innovation and collaboration. Effective new product development capabilities are necessary to ensure the continued success and growth of the company. Without new products, the company cannot have continued revenue growth or stay current with the technological advances of its competitors. Building effective collaborations can facilitate speed to market, investment and creative thinking. You also must know where and how to collaborate to bolster your innovation capabilities. Evaluate your overall supply chain and determine what aspects you must own and control as opposed to being able to influence these areas to achieve your goals. Flexibility could be key to allowing you to react quickly to changing markets and dynamics.

Just as leaders and management initiated the cost management actions to survive the recession, they too must monitor leading indicators and lead the organization on its growth mission. Knowing where and how to compete, selecting the best talent, and driving innovation will ensure sustainable growth. Success requires fresh thinking, creativity, collaboration and continuous innovation at all levels of the organization. Once you find the necessary tools, you’ll find it a lot easier to achieve your desired growth.

Tony Arnold is founder and principal of Upfront Management, a St. Louis-based management and executive consulting firm. Utilizing C-suite experience as a CEO and executive experience in early-stage startup and Fortune 100 companies, he brings unique skills, insights and perspective to enable clients to improve business performance. Tony can be reached at (314) 825-9525 or tony@upfrontmgmt.com.

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