While many businesses are facing a challenging time due to COVID-19, yours might be thriving – or you might have a business idea in its infancy that’s going to take off in the future. Innovation is not reserved for tech start-ups – it’s about rethinking processes so they are more effective, designing new products and services to meet market needs, or changing your business model to embrace new digital technologies. Innovation means different things to every business, but the outcome is the same: to help the business adapt or grow, so it can embrace and even lead new commercial trends.
Innovation comes from within
Ideas are often best when they come from inside sources. This could be a mix of people who are looking at the business from different perspectives and from those who are close to the customer in different ways. If your business could do with a little shake up, consider introducing new responsibilities to team members, or allowing staff to switch roles – even for a few hours. This might not be feasible in all businesses, but in essence, if you can give your team the opportunity to perceive daily tasks in a different way it could spark new ideas or ways to be more efficient.
It’s important to decouple innovation from the leadership team and instil clear processes to realise innovation. Above all, team members need clarity about what to do when they have an idea and how to share it. Try setting up a collaborative digital platform (more on this below) where team members can document new ideas. Leaders of the business should ensure that time is given to discuss and evaluate suggestions, so that employees’ ideas are heard.
Another essential ingredient is culture. All the tools, processes, funding and leadership support in the world would be limited without a thriving culture to foster creativity.
With many teams currently working from home or remotely, culture might require a little more attention. Consider organising team video calls at various times during the week. Rather than regimenting team catch-ups, like you would with formal meetings, try scheduling them at random times to emulate the physical office environment. Think: morning tea where everyone comes ready with a cuppa, a shared lunch break, or evening trivia where you take turns at who prepares the questions.
The right digital tools
Research by Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) found that small and medium businesses that accelerated technology investment and adoption grew in revenue quicker than other small and medium businesses. Collaboration technologies can allow people in your business to work in partnership within and outside the office. Real-time messaging apps like Microsoft Teams can help your team communicate internally and with other organisations (say, if you are a business that works with several clients) by creating chat groups. This can also help to keep emailing to a minimum. And if your team spends a lot of time calling clients and customers, you could consider adopting a unified communications solution to merge mobiles and desk phones.
Project management apps like Trello or Asana can help you stay on top of tasks and easily delegate new items to team members. And if you are looking to hold a virtual meeting that requires collaboration, try Miro, an online whiteboard platform designed for distributed teams.
Training and support
The value of training lies in its ability to empower employees. When your team feels empowered and knowledgeable, it can make them feel comfortable to voice ideas. Most subscription tools or software providers offer free training so that businesses can get the most out of the product. Consider holding an internal session for a software rep to share the ins and outs of a tool that you use. If you have staff who are experts in a certain field, let them present on a topic, so your team can upskill – it might even give the presenter a boost of confidence.
Ultimately, innovation must be owned and championed by every member of the business. The idea is to build a culture that encourages action around innovation, so that the business is constantly evolving to survive and thrive in an increasingly competitive world.