Every business owner wants their company to be more successful, to have the best and brightest employees, and to grow their sales margins. Nobody wants to be the owner a company that is stagnating or worse, losing business.
The question is, “how can business owners foster innovation and drive company growth?”
While there is no guaranteed sure-fire method for making a business more successful, Marlin Steel CEO Drew Greenblatt recently moderated a panel in Baltimore about “How to Grow Innovation in Baltimore City,” where he picked up a few key strategies for fostering innovation among employees and thereby help to grow a business, which he then shared on his Inc.com column.
These key strategies for fostering innovation and growth include:
Putting Someone in Charge, with Real Authority and Responsibility
Projects are much more successful when one person is given the responsibility for that project and is in control of it from start to finish. Making sure that this person is empowered to manage the project and make improvements as they identify them along the way goes a long way towards making projects more successful on the whole.
With a project being managed by a single responsible, empowered employee from beginning to end, that project will benefit from having a person who understands the project thoroughly. This employee’s insight born from a close understanding of the project, combined with the motivation to see the project to success increases the amount of innovative thought that will go into each project.
Create Cross-Functional Teams
Keeping your marketing, engineering, and other teams insulated from the rest does not create focus, it creates a series of cliques that don’t understand the challenges faced by the others. By having a diverse array of professionals look at problems together, you get more unique, creative, and well-developed ideas.
To this end, encouraging different departments to work together and examine problems together will help your business be more innovative.
Set Challenging Goals, and Create Incentives to meet them
Never be afraid of giving your team a tough goal. Creating a challenge that is tough but fair, paired with a strong incentives program encourages employees to be more creative and innovative in order to meet their goals. For example, Marlin Steel has a bonus program for employees when they meet certain production goals in a two-week period. While tough, these goals are set to be achievable, and are constantly being tweaked to match Marlin’s total production capabilities.
Be Prepared to Accept Mistakes, Even as You Seek Continuous Improvement
When you pursue true innovation, the occasional setback is inevitable. As Drew puts it in his Inc.com post, “it will not be a straight line to success.” Going after team members too harshly when an attempt at innovation doesn’t pan out can stunt the creative impulse, preventing other innovations that could prove to be very beneficial.
However, you should still strive for continuous improvement. When a business begins to rest on its laurels is when that business is most in danger of falling behind the competition. Keep pushing for ways to improve your processes, products, messaging, and services. Keep driving your team to innovate and improve, and you’ll find it well worth the effort.
Use Your Local Resources Wisely
Seek out local organizations such as schools or associations related to your industry and work with them. For an example in the Inc.com post, Drew mentions how Marlin Steel has partnered with Johns Hopkins University “on developing next generation automation and robotics.” By working with this prestigious university and the brilliant minds of the people therein, Marlin Steel not only gets to make contributions that will matter to future generations, we reap benefits that will keep on giving for years to come.
Hire Innovators, and You’ll Get Innovations
Many companies make the mistake of slashing their staffing budgets in order to demonstrate short-term savings on a quarterly report. They get rid of expensive employees such as engineers, and that is a mistake.
At Marlin Steel, the engineers are the “secret sauce” to the company’s success. As Drew puts it, “hire more engineers, they will come up with the next great thing and build a moat around your company.” The skills, knowledge, and perspective of Marlin’s manufacturing engineers is what drives value and innovation for this company.
Keep Innovators Close to the Site of Innovation
For Marlin Steel, most innovations occur on the factory floor. When the creators of your innovations and solutions are on-site, they can make constant alterations as they identify opportunities for improvement in real time instead of waiting for a report on the efficacy of the design to be sent to them when they’re half a planet away from the jobsite. This is part of the reason why Marlin Steel’s engineers are rarely more than 30 yards away from where the action is.
Give Your Team the Tools They Need to Innovate
It can be difficult to work efficiently, let alone create truly innovative solutions, when your tools are so obsolescent that they were considered second-rate more than two decades ago. Providing your team with the tools that they need to work is a major part of getting results.
Not just the hardware and software needed to do the job, but the training and knowledge needed to have a basic understanding of the ways that a given process or product could be improved.
To this end, Marlin Steel works to acquire top-of-the-line automated manufacturing equipment as well as provide employees with real opportunities and incentives to build their knowledge. Experienced, knowledgeable employees armed with top-quality equipment make for better, more frequent innovations.
We would like to thank Drew’s co-panelists at the “How to Grow Innovation in Baltimore City” event for their contributions to the list, including:
- John D. Danko
- M. Lisa Swoboda
- Jeffry Kostolni