Innovation is critical to long-term success in distribution. This article shares tips on how to create a culture that encourages innovation throughout your organization.
Much has been written and discussed regarding how “distributors need to innovate to survive.” But most distributors were founded on innovation. The original innovator – the founder – found a need, took a risk and created a business.
And many distributors continue to innovate. Often it’s incremental – a new product/service or additional support for a customer’s needs or a market niche.
Then there are the aha moments where someone has an epiphany, new products or services are created, and new revenue streams are developed.
The culture of your company and the people within your company determine how innovative your company is or can be.
Innovation cannot be mandated. Nor can it be structured as a process. It needs to be inherent in your organization and cultivated in an open, safe environment where idea generation and communication is encouraged. Change must be desired, expected and acted upon. And once achieved, success should be communicated, recognized and celebrated.
But a foundational criterion is a willingness to take risks, from “bet the farm” to smaller “let’s take a chance” decisions.
If you have this type of culture, you are ahead of 98 percent of companies. If not, it could be a management issue or it could be your hiring process.
People need to want to find a better or different approach to addressing an opportunity or issue. This includes having attributes around:
- Risk taking
People also need to be exposed to ideas and tools from others within the industry, from complementary industries and from non-complementary industries where they can ask “How could that work for me?”
Many companies in different industries have similar issues, though they may use different terminology and have industry-specific tools.
A key to success is observation and adaptation. Consider:
- Industry network groups are great but only provide 100,000 feet level nuggets. If you hear something interesting, reach out and interview or visit.
- Network with other local businesses.This could include groups such as Vistage, YPO or other similar groups.
- Read, read and subscribe to more than just books.Every book takes at least a year to develop and publish. They can be good anecdotal case studies, but other sources can get you new information in a shorter amount of time. Read trade publications (including other trades). Read what your customers read. Read what your professional contemporaries read. And subscribe to many e-newsletters and blogs. Be an information consumer.
- Develop multidiscipline task forces or work groups within your company to address issues. People can feed off the experiences and energy of each other. Also consider bringing in channel partners. Years ago GE brought significant value to distributors through its Six Sigma program. They brought in process experts to help distributors address distributor-specific issues or GE-distributor issues. Multidiscipline task forces can also be an effective way of involving millennials and identifying future leaders.
- Get feedback.Getting input from a variety of sources – customers, sales, employees, suppliers, prospects, manufacturer reps, etc. – can generate a different perspective and identify needs.
- Avail yourself of consultants.Consultants are exposed to a variety of companies and can share best practices or different ideas. And they can bring an unbiased third-party perspective that can be politically unbiased. Remember, you’re probably not the only company that has ever faced this issue or has had the same idea.
No one has a monopoly on innovation. It’s what you make of it. Do you have the temperance and the culture to innovate?
David Gordon is the president of Channel Marketing Group and has worked with companies in multiple industries on organizational development, culture development, internal communications, employee motivation and change management. Email him at email@example.com.