In an age where consumers have everything at their fingertips, a company must always innovate -- it's services and product offerings, ease of use, accessibility and even brand marketing -- to keep up with online disruptors. This is the only way to edge out your competition and grow into bigger and better opportunities. 

But resting on your laurels and saying "we've always done it this way" is easy. Innovating your business? Not so much. You have to actively work to be innovative.

I recently sat down with five leaders in innovation to see how they've been able to continuously evolve their business. Here are five lessons for entrepreneurs looking to encourage innovation.

1. Build a diverse team.

Nick Herrild, Brand President at waxing studio franchise Waxing the City, believes that before you try to innovate, you must hire a diverse team. Leaning on staff with varying professional and personal experience offers different perspectives, resulting in different ideas. If everyone on your team has the same background, new, innovative ideas likely won't be shared. He also stipulates that when looking to innovate, don't make rules. Allow your team to come up with any idea and give it your full attention -- no matter how much it may scare you.

2. Get your internal shareholders involved.

Theresa Underwood, Vice President of Franchise Support for Pigtails & Crewcuts advises that you need to get the internal shareholders involved. For her, that meant creating an Advisory Board made up of four franchisees elected by the system to serve as advocates for the brand. For your team, that might mean creating an intranet or an online communication forum. All employees can use this space to share ideas for the brand. This will allow you to hear from everyone, not just top-level staff at your corporate office.

3. Be a progressive leader.

The best way to lead is to lead by example in a fear-free environment, notes Brandon Ezra, CEO of luxury vacation rental franchise Grand Welcome. Innovation starts at the bottom and works its way up the system, and should connect with all key executives on a deep level. Employees are looking to key executives to be innovative role models who not only listen to results but support change agents throughout an organization. Be creative and share your thoughts with employees who can build on ideas that everyone has ownership in developing.

4. Family first.

Establishing a familial relationship with employees shows you genuinely care for and respect who they are -- not just as professionals, but also as people, added Ray Titus, CEO of United Franchise Group. In doing so, they'll feel more empowered to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas on how the business can get better -- and it won't be limited to when they're asked; they'll do so willingly and openly, too. That's because their leaders have made them feel like more than just a number or another paystub ... they feel valued and heard as trusted individuals.

5. Create an open forum and ask the right questions.

David Graham, founder and CEO of Code Ninjas, starts brainstorms with the hard truth. He works to eliminate any tension with his team by being transparent and opens every brainstorm by announcing that 90 percent of what his staff is going to say is never going to happen. "There are no stupid ideas, so just let them flow. You never know what you might say that will inspire someone else, even if your idea was a flop," Graham tells his team. When an idea strikes a chord, he has four simple questions to ask his employees to determine if it'll get pursued: How is it going to fail? Can we mitigate the failures? Is it in our realm of expertise? And is it on brand?

Published on: Nov 25, 2019
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