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Is Innovation Allowed at Your Company—Really?

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Thu Jan 15 2015

Is Innovation Allowed at Your Company—Really?
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In a recent SalesGlobe survey we asked, “How often are new ideas brought up within your sales organization?” Overwhelmingly (71 percent) people answered, “People bring up new ideas when they feel like it’s safe to do so.”

Safe.

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Innovation is never 100 percent risk-free, and failure is almost always part of the process. As an inventor, Thomas Edison, made about 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” according to PlanetMotivation, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

So how does your organization’s culture support creative thinkers? Are new ideas encouraged? What happens when ideas fail? Is the person punished? Reprimanded? Or congratulated for thinking outside the box and encouraged to try again?

Encourage Creativity …

Sales innovation needs leadership with vision. A nervous manager will often reject a new idea out of aversion to any departure from the norm. That person may feel responsible for the ultimate success or failure of the solution, and want to only deal with the tried and true solutions. But, if an organization has an innovative leader, he or she will probably—intentionally or not—create a culture that encourages new thinking.

Of course, companies can’t be expected to endlessly fund failures. While Manpower Group promotes a culture that encourages new thinking, it’s not willing to implement every new idea. Doug Holland, a director at Manpower Group, sees rejection often because their industry can’t absorb the cost of mistakes as easily as others. “It's very challenging, especially in a low-margin business like ours, to feel really comfortable saying it’s okay to make a mistake,” says Holland.

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… But Request a Reality Check

So Manpower Group asks for a reasonable risk assessment before innovative ideas are approved or rejected. According to Holland, “What I see the most is not so much that ideas get rejected because they’re threatening. An idea might get rejected because the proof of statement isn’t behind it. We want the sales person to effectively articulate the predicted outcome and the benefits to the organization. Sometimes a creative solution might require a different type of investment upfront. The rep needs to be able to show if we do this, here’s the ripple effect and here is the return based upon our best estimates.”

Holland adds, “When you have a good idea in this company, and you can show what the end game is going to be and you can articulate it really well, our leadership will go along with it. When they don’t go along with it is when you can’t articulate what that benefit is.”

How does your sales organization balance a culture that encourages innovation with the real costs of failure?

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