5 Key Questions to Ask About Your Company’s Innovation

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On April 16, 2013

Whether we like it or not, as business leaders we’re faced with a choice: Innovate or fade into obscurity.  In today’s marketplace there just isn’t much room for “me-too” companies. Companies have to reinvent their products and services constantly to meet the changing needs of their customers.

Innovation, however, doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s something you have to plan and manage, and push along. Here are five key questions to ask about innovation in your business.

1. How do you innovate? What does innovation look like in your company? True innovation involves more than making slight “tweaks” or cosmetic changes to your products and services. What changes are you making that make your products or services “must haves” for the industry you’re in? In order to do that, you need to know what your customers (and potential customers) really want and need. Are you studying your customers’ needs? Are you keeping yourself informed about hot topics in your market space?

2. Do you have an innovation process that is integrated into your business? Innovative companies don’t just hope for innovation—they have a plan and a process for making innovation happen. This needs to be an essential part of your regular strategic planning. Like all good plans or processes, your process for innovation needs to be specific and measurable. Having a “suggestion box” may be OK, but what you really need is a well-developed process that can take stimulates ideas and provides specific tasks form turning those ideas into reality.

3. How does your innovation stack up against your main competitors and within your industry? The business world isn’t a vacuum. You can’t act as if you’re the only game in town.  And in today’s economy you need to remember that your closest competitor is only a click away. You don’t need to imitate what your competitor is doing (that’s really not innovation anyway), but you do need to be aware of what he’s doing. Has he tapped into a need in the industry you were unaware of? Can you meet that need in such a way that customers will forget about him and flock to you—regardless of the price?

4. How is your innovation linked to your strategic planning process? We touched on this a bit above, but it bears repeating: Innovation is too important to treat as an afterthought. You need to devote as much thought and attention to innovation as you do to things like budgets and market share. It needs to have it’s own spot on your strategic planning agenda. It’s not enough to casually ask if anyone has any new ideas. You need to actively pursue innovative ideas.

5. Do you have champions of innovation in your business? Do you have someone who is responsible for driving new innovation? It doesn’t have to be you, but unless someone is specifically responsible for driving innovation (and creating a process to make it happen), your chances of doing something innovative are slim. That being said, you’ll want to create an atmosphere where everybody feels responsible for innovation. Encourage your leaders to find out what’s going on in their specific part of the industry. Reward reports on what’s happening “out there”—even if the news makes you uncomfortable.

Remember: Innovation won’t happen unless you make it happen. What are the biggest challenges your business faces when it comes to innovation?