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Ten Ideas for a Culture of Innovation

By Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional

Introduce the topic of innovation and, often, thoughts and discussions result in a journey along the path of determining what the next groundbreaking, irreplaceable, home-run-hitting product or service is best for your members or processes.  However, the largest part of the tangible worth of innovation (and its culture) lies in imitation (see “Defend Your Research: Imitation is More Valuable than Innovation,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010).  For that reason, while dreaming up the next iPad (a much better version of the then and already existing tablet PC); don’t overlook making standing ways of doing business a little better, and a part of your common culture.  Here’s how.

  1. Anticipate and congratulate continuous innovation in all areas.  Innovation isn’t restricted to products and services.  Oftentimes, innovation is active and effective “behind the scenes.”  If any staff member has an empirically-supported “better way of doing things around here” (stress ‘empirically-supported’), you need to hear about it.  Relay this expectation to all of your colleagues.  Welcome their comments.  Hear their solutions.  Implement the great ideas.  Involve those who contribute.  Champion those who participate.
  2. Ask hard-hitting questions: What’s working, and what might work better?  It’s easy to become self-satisfied, especially when the cash is flowing and the members are buying.  Ultimately, your competition figures out your lead and adds a wrinkle to your winning ways.  Ask college football’s spread offenses.  But, your members change, as do their expectations.  What makes your member’s dealings with you easier, more effective, and of greater value?  Does a small wrinkle in your delivery keep you winning?

  3. Make certain that your most innovative minds are in direct contact with your members.  Intuit has this “down pat” with their “Follow Me Home” program.  In the early years, Scott Cook, Intuit’s founder, would hang around a Staples store and wait for someone to buy Quicken, the financial software.  Cook would ask the new member if he could follow them home and watch as they installed and used Quicken.  This was one of the keys in Intuit’s success because it allowed them to immediately improve a product.  Intuit continues this practice today and so can you.  Perhaps you construct a member council to gain a perspective on what’s working and what might work better?  Or, you could involve front line sales and service staff members in innovation meetings to get their hands-on viewpoint.  Either or other ways, learning what’s going on in the minds and practices of your members helps your business get better.
  4. Don’t let one department hold sway.  Innovation is an enterprise-wide function; it should encompass the entire enterprise.  Say you create a team tasked with dreaming, designing, and determining innovative products, services, and processes.  Chances are each innovation will affect sales, service, operations, technology, compliance, human resources, and more.  Involve staff members from affected departments to determine the enterprise-wide effects of original ideas.  If the only people discussing sales are from Sales, then Sales gets what Sales wants.  Decisions moving forward may be the same; however including a comprehensive selection of professionals helps ensure the entire organization engages in your credit union’s progress. 

  5. Let them sort it out; be prepared to stomach a bit of bedlam.  Here’s where your Conflict Management Guide comes in handy.  Tasked with an objective, diverse ideas for operative strategies will be presented.  Some individuals may a have pet project, some may have an idea that’s working elsewhere, and some may believe the status quo is just fine.  If the end result is progress, gaining agreement involves conflict.  What is most important is finding common areas of agreement before moving forward.  This involves gaining and capturing input and ideas.  It involves prioritizing “musts” versus “mights” and determining if each idea meets the end objective.  In the end, you want your conflicts to generate clarity, consensus, and commitment.   
  6. Pay and acknowledge for performance.  This one’s easy: help the company move forward, get rewarded.  It might be a cash bonus, mini vacation, public celebration, or personal time off.  Whatever the reward is, the message is clear: take an active role in helping your credit union change for the better and you will benefit.   

  7. Invest resources in good ideas.  Let’s say growth in new markets is your objective.  Your innovative thinkers have determined that the most effective way to grow is via targeted acquisitions or mergers.  This involves capital outlay – and it sure looks like a lot of money.  How committed are you when the right idea involves a large sum?  And how committed are your staff members when that best idea involves a new culture?  If it is still the desirable idea, determine and invest enough resources (financial, human, systems) to ensure enterprise-wide acceptance, engagement, and success.
  8. Don’t cold-shoulder the innovators.  Innovation is oohs, ahhs, grins, and giggles until it means change.  Then, it’s “your idea.”  If the case for innovation has been made, then the innovators need championing.  They need executive backing.  They need managerial buy-in.  They need staff commitment.  This begins with leadership dedicated to a culture of innovation and displeased with a philosophy of contentment.

  9. If the new idea isn’t working, kill it.  There is no sense in throwing good money at a bad idea.  While we do our best to make and implement once right decisions; markets, members, economics, and more change.  A culture of innovation knows where resources are best deployed and seeks to keep them in the most effective, progressive programs. 
  10. Let your front line leaders help lead innovation.  It may well be that only some front line leaders are part of your innovative thinkers; but, all of your front line will be a part of your implementation.  Once an idea is ready to roll, ask your front line leaders how they might see it best working at their level.  They will offer practical insights, feel a part of the innovation process, and help you get buy-in from those who implement.

Innovation is more than a corporate value, core competency, or strategic objective.  Innovation is: an essential element of corporate culture; a mandatory feature of professional performance; and, a vital component of day-by-day-create-and-compete measures.  As swiftly as the world of business is shifting, your members are counting on you to design, develop, and deliver imaginative and resourceful products and services to better their lives and businesses. 

© 2012 by Jeff Rendel. All rights reserved.

Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional, and President of Rising Above Enterprises works with financial services providers that want elite results in leadership, sales, and strategy.  Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 financial institutions and their business partners.

Contact: email  or www.RisingAboveEnterprises; (866)340.3770.

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