When working with teams, one of the first questions I ask is whether they consider themselves to be innovators or order-takers. Their enthusiastic responses are always skewed: everyone thinks of themself as an innovator. Who wouldn’t?
Realistically, most of the team members start off as order-takers. Here’s why.
Status quo implementation processes can be an impediment to innovation and collaboration. Innovation is a messy process: everyone must come prepared to roll up their sleeves, park their egos at the door and do what it takes to consider the situation from every possible dimension. There’s no room for status quo anything when you have unfettered collaboration and unabashed presentation and challenge of ideas and strategies.
That’s thrilling and exciting stuff. Innovation involves Change with a big “C”, no matter how small or incremental that change may be.
Now compare what I’ve just described to how ideas are nurtured, products are developed and change is implemented in your own organization. More importantly, consider how product development, product improvement and custom fabrication are implemented within your customers’ organizations.
Chances are someone has come up with an idea or a new model. Chances are a product development team has been assembled to implement it. RFQs and RFPs are issued. Chances are that implementation involves a series of prescribed processes and practices developed by your customers. Chances are you and your company will color within those prescribed lines when delivering your outcomes.
While you may consider yourself to be innovators, most teams operate within their customers’ status quo systems. You are your customer’s order-takers. Your folks are do-ers rather than innovators.
The opportunity for innovation presents itself while developing a business relationship with that customer, not during project implementation. If you and your team are used to winning business based on responding to RFQs and RFPs, you are short-changing yourself from being innovators. Once the specs are set, there’s precious little wiggle room for innovation.
You inject innovation into your customers’ status quo processes by becoming the basis of design for those RFQs and RFPs. That strategy means you are part of discussions when there is nothing but ideas on your customers’ tables. That strategy means you are a trusted resource for your customers: they ask you “what do you think about this?” rather than “can you do this?”
Consider how you have won business in the past. Are you winning contracts based on joining the party late in the game, during the RFQ / RFP stage? What would it take for you and your team to become involved in collaborative discussions with customers earlier on in their product development cycle? That’s where you’ll find room for innovation.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, catalyzes revenue-producing business transition, startup growth and professional development, one millimeter at a time. She works with manufacturing and engineering firms and small business entrepreneurships. Download her newest White Paper at her Free Resources Page.