Book Excerpt: How to transform every employee into an innovation engine
Interiors, the retail shelving company whose Core Proposition is “Opening sooner,” has staff who serve one of two functions: managing the process of construction and installing the shelving. On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much need for individual or institutional creativity.
In their Blueprint, they asked us what happens if their competitors start copying what they do to get their clients open sooner. The answer is quite simple: just keep looking for new ways to get your clients open even sooner, and you will constantly stay one step ahead of your competition.
For too many companies, innovation is in ad hoc or undirected process. It is often like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. Most of the spaghetti falls to the floor. This lack of focus decreases the likelihood that you will come up with innovations that are relevant to what you do and that are valuable to clients. This makes the process of innovation slow and expensive.Innovation is the result of creativity. It is people’s creativity, their ability to do imaginative problem solving, that produces innovation. So how do you encourage creativity and give it a disciplined focus when most of your employees are not, by their nature, creative? The good news is that most of your employees are more creative than they may think. Ordinary people are constantly facing obstacles and having to figure out ways to get around them. What you have to do is harness that creativity and focus how it is applied.
Your Core Proposition is the device that both inspires and focuses creativity. As we described in chapter 7, the first step is to train your staff to constantly ask the question “Is what I am doing aligned with our Core Proposition?” If the answer is no, they need to be encouraged to find a better way of doing what they’re doing. Maybe they will come up with the innovation themselves, or maybe they will have to collaborate with others. Either way, by asking and answering this question, every one of your employees becomes an innovation engine in the company.
You will be surprised at how quickly people start innovating when they know your Core Proposition. With Interiors, their employees started innovating right from their first exposure to the Blueprint. John, Interiors’ CEO, presented the Blueprint to all of his employees. When he opened up the floor for questions, the first person to speak was a 22-year-old carpenter sitting in the back of the room. He put up his hand and said, “If we are going to be about opening sooner, there should be a space on our weekly time cards where each of us has to write in a suggestion every week for a new way to get finished faster.”
You could dismiss this as a “been there, done that“ idea, but that would be missing a couple of remarkable points:
- The first thing that came to his mind upon seeing the Blueprint was an innovative idea for this company. He didn’t ask for more explanation of the Blueprint. He didn’t complain that it might cause more work. He came up with an idea that was triggered by the Core Proposition, “Opening sooner.”
- While the idea he came up with wasn’t unique, many companies do this, it is an innovation that will return many more innovations. As the company sifts through and prioritizes the ideas that are submitted every week, they should be able to find some gold nuggets on an ongoing basis.
Another person who spoke up in that presentation was the company receptionist. All requests for proposals (RFPs) flow through her, and all of them are submitted on the last minute of the last day because that’s just how everybody does RFPs. She said that from now on she was going to count back three days from the RFP deadline, and that was going to become the new deadline for Interiors’ RFPs. As she explained it, even something as mundane as submitting an RFP should send a signal to prospects that Interiors is about getting finished faster.
What follows are examples of how a Core Proposition triggers creativity within companies, leading to innovation.
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