A key accelerator to fast growth is an innovative product line. What steps should you use to build a dynamic system to create constant innovation so your firm grows fast?
Selling commodity products and differentiating solely on price is the beginning of a death spiral. Reject the market strategy of low cost because there is always some firm that is willing to cut prices more, pay their people less, cut benefits more and skimp on quality. Your clients will suffer with this strategy and your sales will dry up.
Yesterday, I had the honor of moderating a panel to spotlight "How to Grow Innovation in Baltimore City?" to grow middle class jobs. Here are ideas that will be used to strengthen Charm City's middle class but they can be used in your firm as well. Here are the 10 best ideas:
1) Put someone in charge.
Success in projects happens if one person is responsible for the outcome and "owns" the account from the inception to the conclusion of the project. By having one person controlling the outcome and empowered to improve its success, they will identify opportunities during the project gestation through its production to improve elements along the way. They will infuse good ideas, even small incremental improvements. Having one person understanding the project during the entire life span will give them context on how and which ideas are highest priority that should be pursued vigorously. This long view will provide innovative ideas.
2) Develop cross functional teams.
Diversity of professionals staring at the same problem will spark ideas that are unique. Ideas will be more readily implemented since all the departments will have "bought in." The multiple perspectives will shine productive insights that will generate breath taking ideas that cannot be performed if all parties are in their own silo of accounting or marketing or engineering, etc.
3) Challenge your team.
Identify problems that your team has grappled with and provide a "BHAG" (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) to solve that problem so a new innovation will be conceived. By pointing your sights clearly for the team to see, focus will be improved. People, that were not aware a problem existed, will start reflecting and try to fix the challenge.
4) Seek continuous improvement.
Never be satisfied with the status quo. Always demand improvement. Complacency will enable your competition to catch up. An impatient and relentless pursuit of improvement will generate innovations.
5) Accept mistakes.
Accepting set backs during the pursuit of innovations is a given. It will not be a straight line to success. Cut your team slack when a bump in the road happens or they will not pursue big problems.
6) Tap into local resources.
Marlin Steel closely collaborates with Johns Hopkins University on developing next generation automation and robotics. Their creativity and intelligence is off the charts and Marlin's collaboration will yield fruit for decades. Visit your local institutions and work with them on the next generation application that will insure your firm's prosperity.
7) Hire with an eye toward innovation.
Most companies are depriving themselves of a key asset--engineers. Marlin Steel's secret sauce is generated by our team of mechanical engineers. Twenty percent of our employees have engineering degrees. Hire more engineers, they will come up with the next great thing and build a moat around your company.
8) Stay close to the source you're trying to improve.
Most innovations happen on the factory floor. I think the creative juices flow if the engineers, marketing team, logistics team etc are a twelve-minute walk from the production line rather than 12 time zones away. Marlin Steel's engineers are 30 yards from the action so they can see and touch easily their inceptions. The feedback loop is fast so constant iterative improvements accelerate our innovations. Many projects have multiple improvements in a day because of the close proximity to the makers and the conceivers.
9) Offer timely bonuses.
When your team comes up with a slick idea, provide a bonus check fast. People like the reinforcement of a cash bonus. Even small incremental improvements should be rewarded so nothing goes unnoticed. More innovations will flourish because of bonus checks.
10) Provide needed tools.
Among other things, your team needs hardware and software to create the most innovative ideas. It is hard to bend the needle with stale technology at your team's disposal.
-Special thanks to some of my co panelists that contributed some of these ideas including John D. Danko, and M. Lisa Swoboda and Jeffrey Kostolni.