If You Want to Create an Ideas Environment – Start at the Bottom, Not the Top
‘Innovation’ is a buzzword of the moment – undoubtedly.
And it’s no surprise. In a highly competitive environment, ‘doing things the same way they have always been done’ just doesn’t cut it – especially as we see the impact of the pace of technology development and its ever more complex interconnection with business models across all industries play out.
Innovation often starts at the top in business, with executives and specialist consultants called into brainstorming, strategy sessions where ideas about how to diversify, evolve and elevate business propositions. This can lead to fantastic ideas and concepts – no doubt – but in most businesses, is this the best way to go about it?
The Pros and Cons of Top-Down Innovation
Those at the top of their game are experienced and expert, and keeping this type of decision making, which can require a lot of investment, at the top is certainly one of way of controlling risk of failure. In all likelihood, they know their industry, business, P&L, budget and risk profiles exceptionally well, and are well placed to assess whether a ‘pie in the sky’ idea is potentially a lucrative or business enhancing opportunity or a time-wasting money-pit. However, this same group of people can become detached, or less in tune, with their customers, people and markets. This is only natural. In the course of a normal business day, an executive or CFO would rely on their leadership teams to keep them in touch with these dynamics. But if these leaders are excluded from a top-down innovation session, how aligned are the executive team’s ideas really going to be to what is happening on the front-line of the business?
The Value of Using Your Front-Line & Open Innovation
If you take retail as an example, your front-line staff, in store, are your (main) touch point with your customer. Yes, there may be other channels, but principally, if you want to know what is going on with your customer, and how you can better meet their needs, this information (knowingly or not knowingly) sits with your sales/customer service staff. So it’s only right that businesses are cottoning onto this, and working out how to harvest and use this information, and what is available externally to the organisation. We can see this with the increasing popularity of ‘open innovation’ – which in its simplest explanation is basically like a version of crowd sourcing, but for ideas. In a broader sense, looking at programmes that essentially democratise the activity of problem solving and innovation by involving every single one of your staff in problem solving, is a very good place to start.
How Can You Apply This to Your Finance Team?
In the environment of your own team, you will always be looking for ways to innovate – to reduce spend, to cut 10% off month end close, or maybe how to present information to the business in more effective ways. Three innovation models in particular are probably worth mentioning here: collaborative design and development, idea competitions and innovation networking. Encouraging your team, at all levels, to get involved in problem solving by opening up the challenge and the opportunity for them to come up with solutions, participate in the creation of a solution, or talk to others that have already faced similar issues, maybe outside of the company, may realise some real innovation gems.
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