Whether it’s evolutionary – continuous, incremental advancements – or revolutionary – new, disruptive innovation – we’re all looking for the ideas that will help us deliver better services and products, and of course, greater returns for our businesses.
But I think many people expect innovation to come from one-off ‘inspired thinking’ or to be the domain of a small ‘creative’ group . This was certainly my attitude for a long while.
What I’ve learnt is that to deliver long-term benefits, innovation needs to be fostered. It has to become part of the workplace culture and the way we work. Importantly, I believe there needs to be a willingness by senior management to allow their staff, no matter where they sit in the business, to experiment and create.
The benefits of making innovation part of your business are wide-ranging but a few of the most compelling are:
1. Better decision making because experimenting allows you to base decisions on real results rather than theory.
2. Increased employee engagement as you can empower and involve everyone – including junior staff – to explore and trial their best ideas.
3. More and often surprising insights which will come as a result of increasing market testing. The more you experiment, the more likely you’ll get a result you weren’t expecting.
We’ve been working hard to get to the point where innovation is part of our work process, part of our DNA.
Essentially, it is systematic but everyone is afforded the autonomy to tap into their own passions with the ultimate aim to delight customers and grow the company.
While we’re a global organisation, we have a ‘start-up’ mentality and the tools we use are applicable across different business types and sectors.
So here are my top five steps to fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation in your business, no matter what size you are.
1. Define the company culture
No matter the size of your business, take the time to define where experimentation fits within your company’s culture, and then put it in writing. Once you’ve reached a collective agreement, work to incorporate this vision into each and every aspect of the business.
At Intuit, ‘Be Bold and Learn Fast’ are two of our core values that we all embrace. In return, we are given a range of tools and resources to help us continuously innovate and improve, on both a personal and business level.
2. Adopt a start-up mentality
It doesn’t matter how large or small you are, or how long you’ve been in business, you can still think like a start-up. Challenge yourself and others to generate new ideas and solutions related to organisational challenges like sales strategy and product development.
We have 8000 employees yet we put key product decisions in the hands of small teams – we like to say that these teams need to be small enough for two large pizzas to feed. This allows us to be fast and nimble so that we can consistently generate new ideas.
3. Empower employees to act like entrepreneurs
Hierarchy should not determine who has the opportunity to pursue new discoveries or ideas. Instead, decisions should be made by employees with the most creative insights or those who are closest to the customers. You need to create opportunities for every employee to ask questions and have their ideas heard for experimentation.
At Intuit, each team member will spend up to 10 per cent of their time on ‘unstructured time’ projects, giving them licence to spend energy on things they are passionate about. This gives the company new and often unforeseen opportunities to drive change and growth.
4. Practise with low-cost experiments
I love experiments, but to be sustainable as an ‘everyday’ business practice, they can’t always be huge or to take weeks to develop. Using quick, low cost experiments are often a better use of resources because they allow you to get feedback before investing big bucks or a stack of time on a project.
5. Measure and showcase success
Making sure you get data and insights from experiments is crucial because it is this that will help you improve your service, product or experience next time. If my experience rings true, more often than not, your initial hypotheses will prove to be wrong – and this is a good thing. The trick is to savour the surprises and use that data to improve your offering.
If you’ve got this all happening, chances are you’re on the way to becoming the next big thing – or at least a really smart company with engaged employees, happy customers, and years of growth ahead.