Don't Just Help Your Customers Embrace Innovation - Help Employees, Too

We’re living and working in the 21st century marketplace, where innovation has become the engine of growth. Although innovation is generally perceived as a good thing, it means change which can be difficult for people to accept or act upon. That means that making innovation happen still boils down to being an effective leader of people, one who inspires a vision and lays a path to get there.

Companies have developed sophisticated marketing and sales processes to help customers embrace innovation. Think of all the personalized emails, social outreach, customer reviews, product comparison charts, and mobile apps you’ve encountered. But those companies who are getting really good at innovation aren’t just helping their customers embrace innovation, they’re helping their employees be innovative too.

Helping employees embrace being innovative has its advantages. In a March 2012 article featured in the International Journal of Human Resource Management by Jyotsna Bhatnagar, empowering employees with a clear direction and the proper tool set proved to significantly increase innovativeness and even lower turnover intention. With the right process in place, you can reinvigorate your teams to become more effective and engaged, while minimizing disruption and increasing productivity.

How does it work? Doing something new means change, and individuals need to feel good about that. They need to feel empowered, not controlled. Freed to make informed decisions, not shackled by doubt. Most people are naturally averse to change, and to a higher degree if they’re uncertain about something. As a company, standing still is a death sentence – you have to move.  Communicating the strategy and then investing in the right business applications and processes to empower your people can get them up and running faster, and in the right direction.

Most companies understand you have to instill confidence in customers to choose your new product or service, but many don’t instill the same level of confidence in employees. Think about being a customer yourself, and why you ultimately decided to make that last large-ish investment. For me, it was a new desktop computer for our home. We were limping by with an extremely old computer running XP so when Microsoft warned that they were discontinuing support on April, 8, 2014, that was the end. We began researching. Even though my husband and I had never owned an Apple computer, we have other Apple devices and felt fairly confident an Apple desktop may be a good choice. But we started researching and easily found plenty of information. We read customer reviews, looked up prices from the Apple website, Best Buy, and even checked Dell, Lenovo, and others just to be sure. Mac Mini seemed the right choice for us. We checked internet rumors every day for a month to see when the new one would be released. Eventually we were too excited to wait. We sat down in front of our antique, checked all the vendors’ prices again, and finally bought the available version of the Mac mini and enthusiastically all the accessories from the Apple website. We had found ourselves inside a company’s modern, structured, accelerated sales process that you too have probably found yourself in. When those packages arrived it was like Christmas morning. I think my husband captured our anticipation perfectly when he exclaimed: “Sha-ZAM!” Now, owning all of those entirely new things from Apple makes us feel good and our lives easier, even minus that big chunk of change.

Apple, like many successful innovators, has created a structured sales process that inoculates the buyer’s perception of risk and makes trying something new a thrill. People are savvy, and in today’s world, we all expect access to information to help us make informed decisions. And that applies to any context, as consumers or at our jobs. When was the last time you said “Sha-ZAM!” at work?

The top innovators understand that not only do you have to empower customers to choose your innovation, but you have to also empower employees to be innovative. Trying something new or taking a risk - however cool and innovative - can be difficult, whether it’s investing your money in a new computer or waging your career on a product proposal. Product Development has long been critical to success. But when we think of today’s 21st century marketplace and the higher importance executives place on innovation as the engine of growth, the higher the stakes for product development to deliver. The strategic value of the function continues to increase while the overall business environment relentlessly grows more complex. The top performers have found that innovation is a process, like the sales process, that needs to give people clear direction and an empowering framework to execute in order to obtain a desired result.

Questions? Comments? Keep the convo going by leaving a note here or on Twitter @KerJordan.

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