What keeps successful companies successful is a willingness to embrace change, risk and innovation.
Innovation has often leapt as a result of necessity – I’m thinking of the rapid evolution of medical care as a result of the various 20th century conflicts, for example.
Sometimes, we need to ensure our organisations are ready to change, willing to adapt and face new, sometimes unchartered territory. The example of Kodak comes to mind, a company that was at the edge of technology and failed to invest in research and development, technology and did not keep-up with trends.
Very few companies that rested on their laurels in the 21st century are still here today. Not only are there frequent’ copycat’ companies – such as Chinese fast-fashion firms – but the world moves fast, and we must strive to keep abreast of trends, needs and desires.
But, to remain successful, how can we best make changes and ensure innovation remains at the heart of our organisations?
One of the first things I learnt here is Courage. Leaders must demonstrate courageous conviction. There might be pushback on a new direction, but it’s the leader’s job to ensure everyone understands the change of direction and supports it.
You need to confidently communicate a sense of purpose. You have to be prepared to change yourself, your views and sometimes even your values to keep up with evolving trends. It takes courage to support others to take risks and allow them to make mistakes, as long as they then learn from those mistakes. Embracing radical change certainly takes courage, too.
Embracing risk – within certain parameters – is a fantastic way to ensure change isn’t feared and innovation remains a top priority. With change, there’s often risk, and great companies know how to navigate change to their advantage. Kodak was resistant to risk, but innovators like Apple or Tesla fully embrace it. You need to inculcate a healthy, organisation-wide appetite for risk.
Putting too much emphasis on success means your people will be reluctant to embrace risk and yes, even financial risk – but it’s often that risk taker that creates breakthroughs – I’m thinking of Bill Gates dropping out of college to form Microsoft.
Aspiration – Setting long-term goals with high ambitions – and sticking to those goals helps drive a fast-moving culture. In 1962, when US President John F. Kennedy announced the intention to “go to the moon in this decade”, he motivated the entire nation to never-seen-before innovation levels. As analysts McKinsey puts it: “Quantifying an “innovation target for growth,” and making it an explicit part of future strategic plans, helps solidify the importance of and accountability for innovation.”
Aspiring to a goal without a clear benefit will make your team question your aspirations. But get everyone on board, and an aspiration can rapidly change into an (achievable) goal.
People, people, people
Your talent is key to driving any change within the organisation. Not only must you get their buy-in, but you need to ensure they are on the same page. Regular, clear and concise communication – through every channel possible is key. Allow your people to make suggestions in a safe, judgement-free environment, and give them a sense of ownership over those ideas and how the wider company will move forwards. Empowered staff are happier and more likely to stay with you.
We should all be encouraged to share our ideas, to experiment and to embrace failure. By developing a corporate culture based on employee empowerment and engagement, you are almost certain to see stronger flows of innovation.
If, like me, you believe companies need to constantly embrace change and innovation in order to survive, then it’s important to understand how to embrace these concepts and continue to push for the best possible outcomes.