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Dare to be different? 23/09/2009

With a global marketplace and customers & consumers becoming more savvy, the need for organizations to differentiate with a compelling story and set of beliefs that make them ‘the no-brainer choice’ has never been more so. Changeboard interviews innovation expert Cris Beswick.

Dare to be different?

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  1. Distrust in leaders
  2. Major global challenge - innovation
  3. Personality and leadership
  4. HR greenhouse effect
  5. Brave leaders = calculated risk
  6. Intrapreneurs - spreading wings
  7. Customer experiences
  8. Employee innovation
  9. Embedding innovation

Distrust in leaders

How has the economy, MPs scandals and the riots in 2011 affected the way people view leaders?

One of the biggest global challenges facing business today that I see is still the issue of innovation.

There’s a fundamental distrust of the people we have in power already as many compare their own financial position and view of the future to that of MP’s and leaders and see a huge imbalance. With the MPs scandal coming to light this pours salt into an already open wound with many now viewing MPs as criminals. In some respects the actions of the ones that were guilty, by default were criminal and when sentences seem to be weak or the public see little perceived action being taken it only deepens the divide.

In addition the banking crisis and the fact that the average man on the street has been in some cases irreparably affected financially is a stark contrast to the huge salaries and bonuses being paid out even when some banks have made a loss.

The values and leadership that seems to be been demonstrated in recent years has been one of ‘looking after their own’ and is something that needs to change if the UK is going to get back on track.

Major global challenge - innovation

What are the global challenges facing business today?

What I see is most organizations preaching about innovation, promoting their innovative approaches and adorning straplines and brands with innovation as the main USP. However, what I experience is something quite different.

The reality is it’s all talk. It’s jumping on the bandwagon and keeping up with the joneses because to not purport to innovate is signing your own death certificate. As one of the leading experts and advisors on building innovative organizational cultures I sit in board rooms of global brands and can tell you, the innovation landscape is far from being embedded in organizational culture.

Personality and leadership

How should HR be looking to address these challenges?

HR practitioners can play a huge part in helping drive innovation through organizations. Innovation is all about people and HR are best placed to strategically help with building the right culture where employees choose to contribute over and above what they are contractually obliged to.

Employee engagement is the big thing at the moment and it certainly helps in steering organizational culture towards being capable of innovation but it’s not the be all and end all.

There’s something slightly more entrepreneurial, natural and down to earth about the organizations where innovation is embedded. It's something that you can't quite put your finger on and it's different for every organization but the catalyst is always the quality of leadership and the relationships and personality at the top.

HR greenhouse effect

What should be on every HR agenda?

HR should be really focusing on how it starts to show boards its strategic importance. I have a perspective, ‘innovation is a by-product of being exceptional’ as it's in the pursuit of excellence that the atmosphere in an organisation changes and when all the ingredients are right, innovation starts to happen.

HR ‘can’ be instrumental in creating what I call ‘the greenhouse effect’ where all the parameters are finely tuned and balanced in order to create something holistic and even unique. In doing that HR can demonstrate that it can directly influence innovation, which can add to the bottom line. That’s when boards take things seriously.

Brave leaders = calculated risk

What needs to be done to challenge traditional thinking and change behaviours?

One of the barriers I still see in organisations is a complete unwillingness to take risk. It’s in this reluctance to take risk that we perpetuate the status quo. To do things differently you have to do things differently, it’s as simple as that.

Organisations don’t experiment and prototype anywhere near as much as they should do. However the brave leaders that take a calculated leap of faith and take their organisation on an adventure are the ones that succeed. They’re the ones that become what I call ‘Enviable’ and they’re the ones we end up following.

Intrapreneurs - spreading wings

How can leaders empower their employees to become more entrepreneurial?

There aren’t many people that wouldn’t want to be an entrepreneur, a ‘dragon’ and benefit from all the trappings of success. However, it's something that not everyone is capable of as true entrepreneurs are wired differently.

They understand risk and are prepared to take it without fear but with a healthy respect. The flipside for organisations is when employees do take the leap into the world of entrepreneurship the organisation loses that talent. So, the challenge for organisations is to create an environment where those budding entrepreneurs are given the backing, tools and support to spread their entrepreneurial wings internally becoming ‘intrapreneurial’ and benefitting both parties.

Customer experiences

How should leaders of business be looking to grow their organisations?

I believe that next generation competitive advantage will be delivered not by ‘what’ an organization does but by ‘how’ it does it and that means it's about people and building an innovative organizational culture.

Super savvy customers now expect by default that organizations should have great products and/or services as standard so it’s no longer a point of difference. In any case for most organizations differentiating through products is now almost impossible as every competitor has access to the same materials, software, production methods and facilities meaning whatever you make someone else can make to.

All this does is increase the instances of having to compete on price and who wants to continue doing that? So, the differentiator needs to be ‘how’ the organization behaves and ‘how’ its culture differentiates them from the competition.

Organizations should concentrate on building ‘amazing places to work’ so their talented ones choose to stay and the talent they want choose to join.

Driving growth should be done by increasing customer loyalty and increasing customer base through what your customer experiences not just the product or service they buy. Customers want to ‘buy-in’ to your organization not just ‘buy’ your products. They buy into what you believe, what you stand for so creating an emotional connection to them is vital. Ask yourself, what’s more valuable in life ‘things’ or ‘experiences’ because business is no different.

Employee innovation

What's the return on investment when you encourage innovation throughout the whole organisation?

When you look at changing your culture to one based around innovation and intrapreneurship the side-effects and pay-offs can be profound. Increasing every employees willing contribution should be the goal of every leader and building a culture, which promotes high-performance is absolutely vital.

The organisations and brands that get all these things right get payback ten-fold on their investment. They are the ones that we label innovative, different. They are the ones that we as consumers view as the ‘no-brainer’ choice when purchasing and they are the ones where their employees absolutely love working there.

Low absenteeism, high employee retention, winning awards like the Times best 100 companies to work for, high advocacy, customer loyalty, the list goes on.

Embedding innovation

How can I start to embed innovation within my organisation?

The three absolute basics every organisation must do that don’t require budget are as follows:

  • Firstly, start involving all your employees in everything and I mean ‘all’ your employees.

Remind yourself of the NASA story where a reporter asked a janitor what he did, a seemingly obvious question. However, the janitor replied: “I’m part of the team that puts people on the moon.”

It doesn’t cost anything to create a culture like that as it’s about people, relationships and how you collaborate.

  • Secondly, start talking about innovation and differentiation. But, make sure you use your own language in order to translate innovation into something you and your people can understand.

Most organisations start their innovation journey because the proverbial doodoo has hit the fan and a quick fix is needed. In this instance the ‘innovation’ requirement is usually interpreted as being ‘radical’, which is too big for most people to cope with hence nothing happens and the innovation efforts stall.

  • Finally, however much you think you talk to your people increase it. Communication either poor or a lack of is one of the biggest barriers to organisations pushing forward and is almost a brick wall in terms of driving innovation.

Create small hubs, teams of groups and give them different initiatives based around driving innovation and doing things differently. Choose champions from every corner of your organisation to help galvanise your innovation efforts and create a community of intrapreneurs, ideas and potential.

Cris Beswick, lecturer for Cranfield University, author, consultant

Cris Beswick, lecturer for Cranfield University, author, consultant

Cris is a successful entrepreneur, renowned speaker, author, industry judge and advisor to some of the world’s leading organisations. Having founded several successful companies, Cris has also worked with the likes of B&Q, M&S, BP, Nokia, BMW and GE.