What are the three most common excuses you will hear in your business that stops progress and stagnates growth? How about: “That’s not our focus right now,” “We are already innovating but calling it something else,” and “That’s not my job.” Each of these familiar excuses crop up across the board in all businesses, but if you know what excuses to listen out for, you can circumvent them and reroute your business towards innovative thinking that opens up - rather than closes down - opportunities. So let’s take a hard look at some of the main excuses that might be limiting your business right now.
1. “I'm not responsible for innovation, that’s someone else’s job...”
Try an exercise in your office by asking staff members who they believe is responsible for innovation in the business. You may hear lots of surprising answers like “marketing,” “product development” and “management.” In this way, innovation is usually the thing that others pass on or will be taken care of. This leads to a vicious cycle where nobody is thinking creatively and everyone is simply taking care of the daily grind. Here staff get stuck in a space of “readiness” where they wait for innovation to come to them. Actually, the impetus should be placed on being in a state of “driving” which is not a function of a single person and is rather something that needs to get baked into the culture. This is typically evident in smaller businesses and start-ups where entrepreneurial edge drives initial growth. Once businesses become larger and more established, the culture can change and it is here that these excuses need to be weeded out.
How to tackle this excuse
A strong innovative culture is made up of four core pillars: Creativity (and experimentation), feedback, incentive to change the status quo and the possibility to pivot and scale. On a practical level, this could take the form of creative solution days, where the focus is on thinking about pathways to achieving aims rather than on the goal itself. Another helpful idea is a “Friday strat and chat” where employees can meet weekly to generate new ideas and run them past each other. Internal communication is another tool to develop thinking around experimentation, thought leadership and international developments. At Merchant Capital, for example, the team has access to a library of innovative books focussing on self-help and business development, as well as biographies and other interesting reads to stretch minds and foster in-house creativity.
2. “Management is best at evaluating new ideas and their potential.”
A successful company is not built on hundreds of good ideas, but rather on a few great ones. Of course, you can’t always know which idea is going to be the rainmaker. So management has to understand a market and recognise a good idea when they see it. But this isn’t always the reality of the situation and leads to great ideas falling by the wayside. Bearing in mind that this doesn’t always fall on management and actually, the staff within the business are often the ones who have the great ideas which need to be recognised by the powers that be.
How to tackle this excuse
Encourage your whole team to constantly be thinking about your offering. They need to become aware of what products may become outdated and begin to experiment with new ones. Figure out which new initiatives are generating concerns and see if there is validity here. Continue to experiment and gather finite proof of what is working and not working. That way you will find it easier to convince management that this is an idea worth investing in.
3. “We are already clear on what our client needs.”
Understanding your client takes time and while this is a cumulative process, it can also result in assumptions and beliefs which remain unchallenged. Sometimes market studies can collude with this prior knowledge and reinforce old ideas. This can also lead to categorisation and understanding of customers at a demographic level, rather than focussing on what motivates or inspires them. Another problem is when staff work in siloed ways and only focus on their tasks instead of consistently holding the customer in mind.
How to tackle this excuse
When new employees ask why something is done in a particular way, be curious about the question and open yourself up to thinking about an old problem differently. Another great opportunity is to go undercover in your own business - like working as a waiter in your restaurant chain or a technician in your own salon. This will bring you face-to-face with your customer and will allow you to interact with your customer in a natural way. When in this position it is so important to really listen to what they are saying without asking questions directly related to your product. Rather it’s about really getting under your client’s skin and understanding what drives and motivates them.
The bottom line
As your business reaches a certain size, there are bound to be excuses that crop up and threaten to limit where you are headed. While these excuses take a slightly different shape or form across different businesses, they often speak to the same underlying resistances. Fortunately, each of these can be addressed with practices consistently implemented into your culture, an investigative approach to learning and a certain amount of curiosity. This will generate opportunities and build your culture in useful ways, steering your company directly towards growth, instead of excuses.