4 Ways To Make 'Innovation' More Than a Buzzword


It takes a unique mindset to run a company focused on innovation. While innovation sounds like something most every successful company does as it grows, in reality, after finding a successful model, most companies shift to a mode of maximizing revenue and minimizing risk and expense. New ideas are implemented, but only in the context of streamlining current processes and products to keep up with the competition.

Innovative companies, on the other hand, must dedicate resources and create structures that don't give that immediate return and are not in response to competition. They must encourage the generation and implementation of new ideas that, more often than not, fail. While running your business day to day, it's easy for new ideas to take the backseat to everything that "needs" to happen. While short term priorities are the right play to keep a business open, true innovation leads to a truly unique, rewarding and valuable company. It takes time and grit to be an innovator, but it can be done. To start, try implementing these four principles to make innovation more than just a buzzword within your company:

1. Strong Leadership

Innovation starts at the top. It requires calm, confident leadership. The executive team must place as much emphasis on experimentation and embracing new ways of thinking as closing a big sale or managing a productive schedule. New ideas typically fail so it takes perseverance to weed out the bad ideas while the good ones take months or even years to bear fruit. It's less stressful to take the safe route and shy away from innovation. The rest of the team will look to leadership for a sign if they should flinch when a new idea blows up (it will). Without strong, consistent leadership, it's easy to deviate from innovation and it will not take root.

2. The Right Culture

The culture of your company will dictate how comfortable the team is working on new ideas outside of their other job responsibilities. If innovation is to be anything more than a lovely thought, employees must have both the time and incentive for submission and iteration of new ideas. Give a certain number of hours every week to be devoted to idea generation, or encourage the team to meet cross-functionally to brainstorm. Keep in mind your current communication style and how segmented different teams currently are. Companies with a formalized, written communication structure tend to stifle innovation while informal, spoken conversations is a catalyst for new ideas. Make it a priority for people from different teams to interact and reward those who take an initiative to start new conversations.

3. Clear Roles & Goals

Revenue and growth goals do not typically drive innovation. Since the payoff from innovation is long-term, it's a great idea to set short-term, process-oriented goals. Part of a team's compensation can be how many new ideas were generated in a week or a bonus for those trying to implement a new process. Clear, engaging, challenging and attainable goals must be set. Organizational leaders must mindfully engage their team to take personal ownership of achieving team goals. By providing a clear framework for employees to take ownership of new ideas, you will encourage employees to grow and learn. This also communicates that work on innovation is an important part of fitting in with the rest of the team, and ultimately, the company’s priorities.

4. Consistent and clear communication

An innovative company must constantly remind the team why new ideas are important. This should be emphasized through all typical communication channels within the company, including team emails and even in employee reviews. Let them know they have a set number of hours to be devoted specifically to exploration and innovation every week. If the concept of innovation is introduced and then not consistently followed up on, it will not naturally occur. Every member of every team needs to know that their voice is important. Great ideas come from every level and it needs to be known that without a doubt, these ideas are welcome. Communication is a two way street so set up simple processes for these ideas to be submitted and acted upon as well.

If not fully embraced, innovation will remain a trite buzzword around the office. Your entire organization must have confidence that new ideas will be acted upon and implemented and that failures are expected (and okay). Once this mindset is embraced and rewarded, it can spread like wildfire through the organization. A company with an innovative mindset will have the ability to be the market leader, rather than playing a never ending game of catch up just to stay in business.


Post by Trent Sultemeier