American Business in History
By Tim Connor, Rodeo! Performance Group, Inc.
As we seek to generate innovation in our businesses, it’s wise to consider how careful planning can foster an atmosphere where innovation takes place naturally. That type of plan was part of this country at its start.
Opportunity: The Basis for Innovation in a Nation.
When the United States was founded, its people were immigrants fleeing troubles such as famine, tyranny, and persecution. But the basic cause of their unrest with their mother countries was lack of opportunity. They, and their various state representatives, were adamant that the America would have opportunity written solidly into its founding documents.
What was included in those carefully planned documents?
The Declaration of Independence pointed out the problem. In it are listed over 20 actions taken by the king of England to quell self-government by the people in the American Colonies. They saw his actions as onerously limiting their opportunity in the important areas of their lives.
The Constitution, written to avoid allowing the government to lapse into tyranny, specifically enumerated the powers ceded to the central (Federal) government by the people. It was carefully written to make sure that those in government didn’t begin taking over responsibilities not given to it.
The Bill of Rights, five amendments added at the writing of the Constitution, before it was ratified, were intended to make absolutely certain that the powers in specific citizen areas (speech, arms, religion, press, and assembly) would be kept out of the hands of the Federal Government.
As you are aware, this careful planning resulted in two centuries of innovative production that has been unmatched before or since. Let’s look at applying the same approach to a business.
Building an Atmosphere of Opportunity in a Business.
So, to begin with, what contributes to an atmosphere of opportunity – the basis for innovation?
Freedom from Fear
Freedom from fear. Whether in a nation or a business, it’s the absence of fear – fear of discouragement, of reprisals, of derision, of being ignored – that opens the floodgate of creativity and energy in people. If in your business you can effectively eliminate fear, you will have the foundation for amazing innovation and improvement.
The opportunity to recognize a need. In order to bring their imaginations to bear on problems that need innovation, people need to know what’s going on. In a business, this means knowing the business’s goals and challenges. It means knowing how the business is doing, and understanding how what they do affects business performance. When staff know these things and are not fearful about recommending improvements, they begin putting real energy into making things better.
The opportunity to do something about it. It’s not enough that people are able to recognize a need, there needs to be a way for them to actually do something about it. For the leader, this means taking the time to develop regular and acceptable means for a)innovations to be voiced, and b)those innovations to be put into place and tested. It’s really not very hard to do, and involves setting up a set of basic rules that folks will observe in their innovating. When these rules are the right ones, and are kept to a minimum, unbelievable things start to happen. Want to see an example? Take a look at the Ritz Carlton example.
The opportunity for personal reward.
This doesn’t have to be a monetary award, either. During the six years I was involved in taking new hires through an orientation process in a large (1200 staff) organization, I routinely asked the people, “What is most important to you in working for a company?”. Invariably, in over 150 of these classes, money came in number six! What was first – what was considered the absolutely most important? Respect. Now I asked them what that meant exactly, and here are some of the answers I commonly got:
- I want the company to respect me as a person.
- I want to be recognized for the work I do.
- I want to be recognized for the contribution I make.
- I want to be heard, and my ideas considered.
- I want to improve the processes where I work, and I want my manager to listen to the suggestions I make.
- I want to work with other people who respect me and respect each other.
- I want to work with a winning team, one that has the respect of the company for its performance.
- I want to work in a company that’s respected by its customers and by the community.
Interesting, huh? Developing a plan that produces people committed to world-class innovation is not rocket science, it can be done in any business – YOU can do it in your business. And what will those people give you as a result? Competitiveness, profits, loyal customers, lower costs, quick cycle times, high morale. Are these traits that you’d like to see in your organization? Take an hour this week to consider how these qualities in your people would help your company. Do it!