“There are always better ways to do things, and it’s a business owner’s job to ignite a culture that not only supports, but empowers and rewards consistent innovation.”
Gabie Boko, Executive Vice President of Sage North America, shares her best strategies in an interview on how entrepreneurs can truly master and embrace innovation within their business environments.
What does the word “innovation” really mean?
Boko: Innovation is really another word for change, and oftentimes the assumption is that the change involves technology. While technology is an important aspect of innovation, innovation doesn’t begin or end with changes in technology; it’s a change in thinking that results in a different approach to how you do business.
Why is innovation so important?
Boko: Embedding innovation into your company’s culture will result in an excited and engaged staff, provide your customers with the best products, services, and experiences possible, and give your prospects a reason to engage with you. Ultimately, innovation leads to new customers.
How can changing the way I think impact my business?
Boko: Changing the way you think about your business, from product and service offerings, to marketing, sales, and support, can create an internal cultural shift that aligns your entire team to better meet customers’ needs. You can then form a community that encourages customer engagement.
Why should I promote change?
Boko: Promoting change is invaluable, because in today’s competitive business environment, you cannot afford to do what you’ve always done, or do nothing at all. There are always better ways to do things, and it’s a business owner’s job to ignite a culture that not only supports, but empowers and rewards consistent innovation.
How does continuous learning promote innovation?
Boko: Continuous learning should be part of everyone’s professional development goals. Taking courses and going to in-person events can open your mind to new possibilities, and ultimately make you a more creative, insightful person who is more likely to both inspire and embrace change.
Departments in my business seem to operate in silos. How can I break these down?
Boko: Changing an (all-too common) siloed business model can be difficult, but it must be done. To get started, simply talk to one another to see what other groups are working on and thinking about; the result will be more integrated, robust campaigns and overall better business ideas.
How does company culture impact innovation?
Boko: A culture that allows employees to question things opens up discussions that can encourage change. From business strategy to the brand of coffee in the break room, nothing should be off limits. Let employees know that you encourage thinking out of the box, and don’t let the current conventions or processes bog down creativity.
How can I foster change among my employees?
Boko: Set the example! Don’t be afraid to push the envelope yourself. If you’re a confident proponent of innovation, your employees will pick up on it and know they can say anything, and challenge everything, for the sake of new ideas. Keep in mind that a successful brainstorming environment must make employees know their ideas are valued.
How can I ensure that this newly-encouraged creativity is also constructive?
Boko: Form small teams. If you have a group of 30 employees coming up with big ideas, people tend to get sidetracked and execution can slow down. Smaller teams tasked with a focus area are able to move faster and execute on more ideas. Designate team leads to facilitate conversations and assign action items.
How do I assign metrics to innovation?
Boko: Resist the urge to focus on numbers in a time of change. When you’re headed into unchartered territory, it isn’t always possible to foresee the results. Instead of assigning a specific financial goal to an idea, instead focus on what the team learned and the potential long term business impact.
How can I determine what changes need to be made?
Boko: When starting something new, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and this is often the case with opening up to changes in the way you run your business. Start by getting advice from your customers. Who better to tell you where you could improve? Listen to their ideas and their struggles to better outline your brainstorm sessions. Consider going out into the field to observe how customers interact with your product. Are they using it in a way you wouldn’t expect? Observing and speaking with your customers will unveil areas for improvement that you may have never considered.
How does the physical work environment impact innovation?
Boko: Work environment is an often-overlooked aspect of culture. If employees are in offices with their doors closed, how many ideas are being shared? Consider implementing small changes to get people talking, such as open seating areas where small groups can get together and it doesn’t feel too stuffy.