The recession has proved that good business performance isn’t necessarily the survival of the strongest, but of the smartest. Corporate giants have fallen because they didn’t know how to adapt to the new economy. Meanwhile, business start-ups have been able to spot opportunity, make it happen on the slimmest of budgets, and used innovative marketing techniques to make their presence felt in a crowded marketplace.
The point is that Creativity is a company’s greatest resource, and it’s fueled by employees who dare to think outside of the box, and managers who create a culture of innovation. Unfortunately, some company structures tend to suck all the passion and curiosity out of their people. Here are some policies that could be holding your company back.
1. ‘Stick to your job description.’
In many companies there’s a ‘creative’ department or the big ‘idea’ guy and then there are the pencil-pushers that follow whatever the higher-ups say. But when you think about it, the best feedback come from the people who have direct contact with the problem. The customer service crew who hears the complaints day in and day out know exactly why a new product isn’t selling well. The delivery guys can also give a very real reason why logistics cost doubled in the last quarter. (‘I’m running all around town and spending xxx on gas a day. Why don’t the idiots in sales just group the orders?’)
2. ‘Prove you’re the best.’
Companies often try to breed competition among managers, hoping that this will somehow ‘motivate’ them to do better. In reality, meetings often turn into ego fests with everyone trying to magnify their input and putting down the others.
However, really productive brainstorming sessions only happen when other people build on each other’s inputs. And don’t throw that old adage about teamwork, unless you can honestly say that your company culture values the process as much as the result. Do you reward just the star performers, or do you also praise the people who contributed—even in the small way—to the success of a project?
3. ‘Talk to finance.’
Let’s face it: when profits are down, the real bosses in the office are the guys in finance. They control how much money is spent and very often, ideas are accepted or rejected on the basis of gross profit margin.
However, some innovations may not immediately garner profit, or they boost company performance in a way that can’t be measured by numbers. (How on earth do you compute ’emotional affinity of the customer to the brand’ in an Excel sheet? But that’s one of the biggest factors in whether or not consumers will stick to a product even when they’re cutting down on personal expenses.)
Real managers build their company on both numbers and on possibilities.
4. ‘Reduce all risk.’
Many companies think that they’re encouraging brainstorming, but set up such a complicated ‘system of review.’ This includes passing an idea through multiple layers, demanding a 300-page report from the research department, sitting on the concept for another few months, before running another series of meetings where everyone just sits around and argues over the Powerpoint presentations.
Brainstorming and discussion are necessary—and so is a dose of prudence. After all, it’s financial suicide to run with the first idea you hear, especially since the idea could be pruned or developed after consulting with different departments.
But there’s a fine line between weighing the pros and cons and just being too damn scared to make a real decision. That is why real managers allow discussion but eventually make an intelligent, calculated risk.
5. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Real managers don’t just solve today’s problems, but anticipate tomorrow’s problems. Sure, things are working now—but with market trends, can the company still maintain its position for the next 10 years? What is the competition doing, or planning to do? And is there a shift in consumer habits or perceptions? Maybe there’s a new market you haven’t tapped yet. Or an old market that’s not as loyal as it used to be.
That’s why business start-ups need to create a policy that constantly encourages brainstorming—instead of just waiting for a major crisis that sends everyone into panic and usually leads to reactionary strategies.