Analysis of a recent survey of 1,432 CEOs, conducted by my team at Vistage, showed that innovation is the biggest driver of growth for small and midsize businesses. This is especially true when incremental and radical innovations are leveraged to break the status quo in an industry, and when innovations change both how products or services are created and delivered and what products or services are offered to meet changing customer needs.
But with trends showing that demands from talent, to taxes, to technology are pulling CEOs in a hundred directions, it's not surprising that "lack of time" is the number one barrier to innovation for small and midsize businesses.
Then come other barriers -- which, according to our research, include limited investment, too much focus on existing work, low employee engagement and resistance to change. If you're a CEO, you have an important role to play in the innovation of your company, starting with removing the barriers that are blocking its progress.
Here are four solutions to help you do exactly this as highlighted in our latest report.
1. Choose to invest the time needed.
Truth is, no one has time or money for innovation. You have to choose to invest in it. Don't have a dedicated team for research and development? Try carving out time for your management team to meet once a month and discuss innovation initiatives.
Think beyond incremental improvement. Set ambitious goals around launching new products, winning new business or rethinking your business model.
2. Create a task force to get started.
If you don't know where to start, create a task force in charge of innovation and clarify who is responsible for the outcomes. The team should include at least one senior leader. Put someone in charge that isn't already managing daily operations so they can focus on new opportunities instead of putting out fires.
3. Create incentives for your team.
If it's difficult to get your team engaged, create incentives for innovation that are not governed by your company's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) or measured by financial returns.
Work with your human resources team to make innovation a core competency of your employees. Review the innovation capabilities of your senior leadership team. Start asking candidates about innovation as part of your interview process. Train your employees on innovation practices and strategies.
4. Start with small innovations.
Innovation can feel like an overwhelming task. Sometimes, this stems from thinking about innovation in a limited sense, such as creating new products. In fact, innovation can transform any aspect of your business and could range from radical to incremental.
Could a unique monetization method disrupt your industry? Could you integrate automation tools to innovate work flow? Could you transform your production line to accelerate the delivery of goods? Simple questions can spark big ideas.
The fastest-growing companies are the ones most capable of adapting to a rapidly-changing environment. If you can continue to create a culture of innovation, there's no reason yours can't be one of them.