Innovation, Joe GirardHow many times have you heard people say they want to be innovative, when in reality they don’t want to change a thing?

Leaders talk at length about their desire to drive change and be ahead of the curve in their marketplace. And this week is a perfect time for me to talk about this for a few reasons. First, I have had some pretty interesting meetings with people about change in their organizations and how to facilitate big ideas. Secondly, I will be speaking in a few weeks on a panel discussing the multi-generational workforce. So I thought I would come at it from two angles today.

I want to talk about what’s holding us back from change, and how to attract and retain innovative talent.

I want you to take a deep look at this post and ask if you are falling victim to this yourself because I hope that it will help you take some serious action moving forward. To grow with the needs of the market, sell more effectively, and build a winning team, this article is a must read.

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A friend came to me a few days ago to discuss some pretty cool  ideas on how to expand a consulting business to be more spiritual, do more work with visualization, and help people live better lives. She was very excited about the possibility of helping others find their true potential and perhaps even doing some motivational speaking work. The problem is that the consulting firm is not hers. These ideas will only go so far as the cultural imperative of the ones who run the organization and no matter how much SHE believes in the concepts, ultimately it will be up to them. She is not alone.

You see, if your values and the values of your organization are incongruent, then you will have a hard time seeing your ideas through.

If you are an innovator and work for a company with a non-innovation culture, you will struggle. Likewise, if you are a business owner and you have staff with differing beliefs, you will have some hard decisions to make.

Innovation comes from an organization that innovates, not simply from innovative ideas. To move forward, everyone has to be willing to change.

And with the pace of today’s business world…

Resisting change is not an option

It’s funny to me when I listen to managers and executives speak about change and innovation as if they are things you can just hire for and manage.

Let’s just come up with some new ideas and hire some people who can make things happen…” Innovation is not something that happens in isolation, but instead needs to be a complete shift in culture. The problem lies in the fact that we are all resistant to change, and many company leaders don’t want to change themselves. Jim Rohn said it best, “For things to change for you…you have to change.” 

But in meeting after meeting, the rhetoric is that the staff should innovate…as long as it doesn’t interfere with the current state of things. “We’ve never done that before.”

What happens then? Well, these so-called change initiatives fall flat because they are not completely sponsored by organizational leaders. We want change, but fear it at the same time and that’s why innovation stalls. As humans, change is tough. It knocks us out of our comfort zones and makes us feel weird. We all want to see change, as long as someone else feels weird, not us.

The reality is that change is already happening all around us, whether we like it or not. The world is moving quickly and organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up. Couple that with our “instant-gratification” and “selfie” society where our attention span has dropped to that of less than a goldfish, and we have a recipe for failure. People want to innovate, but simply won’t because the systems they work in are not change-ready.

Holding on to the past is the biggest challenge

Many organizations today struggle because what worked ten or fifteen years ago no longer works. Their markets have changed as has the rest of the world. We intrinsically understand that change is a constant but are afraid to fail, so we hold on to ideologies, systems, processes, and worse – PEOPLE in the hopes that somehow it will all work out. If you have a group of staff who have not learned something new in the past year or so, you are in big trouble. We all know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. By that logic, I think the world is full of insane organizations.

“But what about all these meetings we have? We innovate!”  You know the ones…where we all bounce around new ideas, have some nice lunch, and talk about some vision-type stuff. We all feel good about the thinking ability of our team and someone is tasked with creating some kind of action plan. In theory, it all feels nice and warm, right? And maybe there is a task force we create. And the project leader comes and asks others what input they have. They are inevitably met with the same answer. “We are too busy to help. We trust you can figure it out.”

The new idea is then finalized, and unveiled. What happens next? Two things:

  1. Best case scenario: The plan is rolled out and at the first sign of push back from customers or staff, is recalled and put under review or shelved completely.
  2. Worst case scenario: A senior anti-change-agent staff member explains all the ways it won’t work, and most likely leverages the idea that it will negatively affect sales. This causes alarm in everyone and the idea is pulled before even being launched.

In both scenarios, what ends up happening is fear takes over. We would love to have change, but only if we are not affected by it. The conversation then turns to how to simplify the idea and roll it out so people don’t have to change that much. And how to do it in a way so that current sales are not affected. And on the surface, both of those ideas sound totally right. Of course we want to minimize impact and risk, but the reality is that with our aggressively changing markets, we don’t get that luxury. And if you have vocal tribal leaders on your teams, this conversation inevitably will stall and set back any progress you want to make.

Have you seen this happen before? Initiatives take a nose-dive because they posed a perceived risk? What about on the flip side, where you rolled out something slowly to make it easier on everyone, but instead it held back your progress? Or maybe something that you talked about, should have done to be a market leaders, but now is the norm? or maybe you wasted time discussing an idea that should have just been pushed ahead and tried? And lastly, do you wait to see what your competitors do and follow suit?

Choose wisely: Stay ahead of changing markets or keep your staff “comfortable”

I talk quite a bit about comfort zone and pushing ourselves to be more. It’s not easy to venture into the unknown and do things you’ve never done before. People change for two reasons:

  1. They are in a crisis: Their world has given them no option but to make changes or perish. They essentially are out of options.
  2. They are in a growth mode: They want to be, do, and have more and are willing to deal with being uncomfortable. They understand that change is tough and are prepared to do the work.

Who do you think I like working with best?

Are you truly about innovating or simply just trying to get others excited? For organizations to be innovative and drive change, we have to be willing to push ourselves and the people around us – to make them uncomfortable. Of course we don’t want to upset our staff, partners, or customers…I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that organizational leaders have to decide on change as a cultural imperative and not lip service.

And these anti-changing tribal leaders in our organizations are, in reality, handcuffing progress by creating a change-resistant culture. Every time this resistance is allowed to permeate through the ranks, your organization loses the ability to grow.

Many companies struggle to just to keep pace, let alone innovate. If you really do want to innovate, then why do you stay with people who don’t believe in the same things you do? If you are a true innovative business owner, why do you think the old dogs who have fought change will suddenly learn new tricks? And if you work for a company that does not believe in what you believe, why do you stay? Well, if you followed my logic so far, the answer is simple. Firing someone is change. And leaving a company is change. And they are both uncomfortable…

So here’s my challenge to you…If you truly are an innovator and a change agent, what will you do this week to take action on your plans? You can’t keep saying I want to innovate, while at the same time stay comfortable.

As a leader, change comes from YOU.

A change culture attracts talent

Here’s the big item up for grabs today. When you create an authentic change culture, you attract like-minded people to you. So if you are the business owner, what are you doing to entice innovative talent? And if you are the talent, what are you doing to make yourself attractive to the right companies?

I keep hearing that the youth of today don’t want to do the hard work to be successful, that they won’t “pay their dues,” and that they are not loyal. Well, add that sentiment to the fact that over the last 50 years, we have seen companies just simply come and go. According to Harvard Business Review in an article on corporate endurance, the average lifespan of S&P 500 companies has shrunk from around 60 years to closer to 18 years. It used to be normal to pay your dues for decades and then reap the rewards of loyalty, but not anymore. No wonder people feel insecure and don’t seem loyal. It’s just different now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build a lasting company full of great people!

Talented employees want to be involved in meaningful work, want to be properly rewarded and recognized, and want to work somewhere that is consistent with their beliefs. They won’t stay for the sake of staying, so it is your job to create a culture they will want to become a part of.

I have interviewed hundreds of these young talents over the years and they all just want to feel pride in what they are doing. They want work that fits with them as people and they will do the work necessary if presented with the right opportunity. None of them say, they just want a paycheck or don’t care where they work. But that is the excuse employers make when talented people leave them…

Alternatively, one of the fastest ways to lose talented employees is for them to see you rewarding bad behavior, such as keeping those anti-change agents. What is their motivation then?

Here’s the secret: Today, you have TWO customer sets. One is the traditional, external one that you sell products and services to keep them coming back for more. The other is your internal customer you need to sell an authentic vision to that they will want to to be a part of and stay with you.

Last week my friend Stephane, who is a superstar salesman, sent me an email about a discussion he was having with his boss. Something he saw on LinkedIn:

CFO asks CEO : “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

That’s huge! What are you willing to do to attract, cultivate, and retain talent? .

Consumers want great products

Steve Jobs illustrates in biography, some excellent insight about what makes a great company (I know, I know, everyone quotes Jobs and Apple, but this one totally fits).

His mission with Apple, he says, was simple: to “build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products.” Further to that he discusses why some companies last and others don’t: “The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues… So salesmen are put in charge, and product engineers and designers feel demoted: Their efforts are no longer at the white-hot center of the company’s daily life. They “turn off.”

Jobs talks about how this happened at both IBM and Xerox. The salesmen drove the success of the company and knew how to move the needle, but “they didn’t know anything about the product.”

And this is what can doom your great company. Your customers simply want great products. Are you doing everything you can to create the best products for the right market? Have you taken the time to understand the needs of your market? Or are you just selling hem stuff you made?

I see too many salespeople holding their company hostage because they refuse to accept change. They bring forward all the ways it wont work and use the excuse that it will cost you revenue.

Also, we have accountants initiating discussions on how to save money, cut costs, trim expenses, and be “lean.” And they do that until we bleed to death. Trimming costs is not a business strategy, it is a death sentence. When you focus on selling old product and cost cutting, you essentially begin the long slide of playing “defense.” You stop innovating, customers start leaving, service suffers, and then you cut more costs. Find ways to re-invest in innovation and get your people excited.

10 Steps on how to create an innovative culture

I hope this post does not come across as doom and gloom because my goal is really to help you see where the opportunities lie. It doesn’t take a massive shift on your part, but small, deliberate steps on the right activities will help you keep up with your markets. Success in today’s economy will come from talented people creating products that consumers get value from and constantly striving to improve the quality of your customer’s lives. That may sound somewhat altruistic, but it’s business in its truest form.

Now keep in mind, there is a fine line between always jumping at new ideas and building an innovative culture. Follow the guidelines below and work with your teams to begin the right way to embrace change. And give it time!

  1. Get crystal clear on your vision: Who do you serve? Why do you do it? What pains do you solve for customers? What impact do you make in people’s lives? When others talk about you, what would you absolutely love them to say? So many professionals, don’t even have a clear “why” when talking to others. How do you expect anyone to get excited about what you’re doing?
  2. Attract talent: Once you have that vision, share it. Everywhere. Make it a part of your organizational DNA, your advertising, your job postings, and your staff meetings. Ensure that when the rest of your teams go out and tell people, they are sharing the same vision that you are. A great test is to send out a survey and have everyone write down what they say when someone asks them ‘What do you do?” or “Tell me about your company.” You will be surprised at how varied the answers will be
  3. Set only 2 goals – 90 days and 5 years: Don’t over-complicate your goal setting or those of your teams.Craft a 90 day plan that will help you get some traction on new ideas and gain momentum. As for the 5 year plan, that should come from your vision in step 1. Each quarter, set a theme or something tangible that you want to accomplish. Over the course of the year, you can do some amazing things by breaking it down into 90 day chunks. Get my 90 Day Sprint guide here as a start.
  4. Build the foundation: You can’t innovate when your systems and processes are not in order. A major lesson I learned over the years has been to do the boring stuff to make the fun stuff look easy. It is all about the little things you have in place that will make innovation work.
  5. Study the market: Research trends. Talk to your customers. When was the last time you got your best customers in a room and talked to them about how to improve? Or better yet, when was the last time you talked to a lost customer to learn what you could have done differently? Find out what people want and start to build it.
  6. Take calculated risks: Everything we do has some kind of risk. You shouldn’t avoid it completely, nor should you blindly expose yourself to it. An innovative company should have risk as part of the plan. You need to intelligently decide how much you want to take on. Perhaps in your business model, you decide that 25% of your products will be new each year and you will assign teams to bring them to market. You account for the research, labor, development, marketing, and selling costs. Some products may bring you a negative return, while others may end up being the new flagship product of your organization. Either way, you should make it a part of the plan and this will empower your staff.
  7. Deliver on your promises: When you take risks as in step 6, people will be watching to see if you truly are okay with failure within the plan. If you say that you want to innovate, and punish people when new products don’t work, they will be hesitant to step forward for the next project. Your teams need to see that you support them, and are willing to try new things. Likewise, when you proclaim that you embrace change and want your staff to be innovative, while at the same time rewarding those that work against your vision, you will quickly demotivate your teams. As a leader, you must be willing to follow through on your decisions to change, even if it means cleaning house and getting rid of staff who simply won’t come along. It doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them bad for business. Are you willing to sacrifice the success of your company, the ability to attract new talent, and your own potential simply because someone who has been around for a long time “finds it uncomfortable to change?”
  8. Reward activity, not just results: In my 90 Day Sprint, I discuss the concept of activity versus results. As a society, we are all pre-conditioned to be “right.” We are measured on our ability to get more right answers than others. What we should be embracing is the process of learning and of doing the right work. With smart planning, you can create systems for predictable results. Work on things you can control first, and not the results at the end. If you are fostering innovation, help your teams understand the right skills, attitudes, and behaviors they need and recognize when they are consistent with those. The faster you start doing this, the more solid your culture will become. When people start learning which behaviors are being rewarded, they will quickly start to behave accordingly. And once more, I ask you to to take a look at what and who you are rewarding…
  9. Review, Evaluate, Improve: This is where the magic happens. To truly grow through change, you must build a philosophy of reflection and improvement. Are you working with your teams to get a deeper understanding of your customers and their needs? Have you taken the time to find out what your true organizational capabilities are? What can you learn from the past week – what worked, what didn’t? What did you learn from the 90 days you just went through? Or does each day just come and go and you hope things will all work out?
  10. Focus on training and development: Lastly, take a look at how you are helping your people grow, personally and professionally. What about you too? Have you sent them to any workshops, done internal training, or had one-on-ones with them to find out their goals? Do you have leaders in your organization that work on their own professional development, get involved in the community, or even have their own small businesses? What can you do to support those around you and enrich their lives? Could you hire a coach to help them get to the next level? Could you bring in a trainer or host a workshop to do team building, strategy sessions, or motivate them? Often, I see organizations relying on the current knowledge of its people to solve the new problems that come up. If your teams are not constantly learning, they are vastly prepared for a world that no longer exists.

Today was a lengthy one, and I hope you are still with me here. As we know, the world is changing and its hard to keep up. There is no single way to keep up with the pace of change other than to understand it is a constant and make your company culture one of innovation. To do so will require authentic leadership and consistency in your vision and message. There is nothing stopping you from being a leader in change and surrounding yourself with others who believe in the same. You just have to take action. And if you want help, contact me and we can map out a plan!

I hope that helps you become more innovative and drive your business forward. Remember to share this with others and leave your comments below!

Joe Girard
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