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Employee happiness matters more than you think

Originally published on September 16, 2014 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-digital/innovation/employee-happiness-matters-more-than-you-think/article20600181

I remember the flight well: It was 2010 and our first book on innovation had been successfully released. I was on my way to Cannes to deliver a workshop at the annual World Innovation Convention, and was excited to be making the trip.

What struck me was the fact that the companies attending this conference didn’t just represent billions of dollars in spending and revenue – they represented tens of billions of dollars. My business wasn’t even a rounding error for them.

In my workshop, I focused on the generation of small, incremental ideas: those ‘little things’ that leave a big footprint on your organization and most importantly on revenue. Following my presentation, the chief innovation officer of a major U.S. company approached me. He told me that the company had grown to such a mammoth size over the years that it cost more to submit an internal proposal for a new idea than it did to start the company in the first place.

This was a business-changing conversation for me. As an entrepreneur, I gained insight into the value that a boutique consulting firm can bring to the global marketplace. As an innovation thought leader, this encounter made me recognize the importance of intrapreneurship: eliminating the barriers that squelch bottom-up internal innovation.

Intrapreneuring, of course, is all about empowering your work force to think like owners, and identify and implement ideas to move the business forward. It’s about managers doing less telling and more listening. It sounds simple and should be intuitive. But true intrapreneurship has been surprisingly slow to emerge.

Its importance was recently reinforced by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman in his new book The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. “Companies need entrepreneurial talent throughout the organization in order to respond to rapid changes.” The importance of intrapreneurship, however, goes further than idea generation. Empowering your people has an additional benefit: besides new ideas to improve products, services and process, it helps to surface new ways attract, engage and retain great people.

Why is this important to all of us? Because if business success depends on happy customers, happy customers come from energized, engaged employees. A recent article co-authored by McKinsey and the Disney Institute offers this important insight: “The secret to delighting customers? Put employees first.” When employees are encouraged and motivated to do their best work, they will continually delight your customers with new and better products and services.

The same article goes on to say, “companies that had a 1-percentage-point lead over their peers in key customer journeys typically enjoyed a 2-percentage-point advantage in revenue growth. In addition, companies that deliver excellent customer journeys increase employee satisfaction and engagement by 30 per cent.”

It’s all intuitive, really. Who’s better positioned to recognize new opportunities for better products and processes than those who meet customers every day? And what better way to motivate and engage your workforce than to listen to them and respect their insights?

Having spent many years in manufacturing, I’m impressed with American Airlines’ Fuel Smart program. Founded in 2005, the program aims to reduce fuel consumption by implementing employees’ suggestions. Through simple ideas from employees, like using one engine during taxiing, American Airlines has saved billions of dollars in reduced fuel costs. This concept resonates with me because I have always engaged my employees to help my company do things better, and saved thousands of dollars along the way, which for small businesses is a big deal.

As an entrepreneur, I’m also moved by Adobe’s Red Box innovation program. As a 2013 Adobe blogpost, “Imagination Sparks Innovation,” explains, “at Adobe, we truly believe that anyone in the company, irrespective of title or function, can innovate.” To bring employees’ ideas to life with minimal management interference, Adobe developed its KickStart Innovation Workshop. “Employees are given a red box. Inside is everything they need to become an Adobe Innovator, including some seed money on a pre-paid credit card with a step-by-step process to originate an innovative new concept, and then use that money to validate that concept with customers.” Imagine that: A suggestion box that offers recognition, process and capital.

As entrepreneurs, we may not be able to give everybody in our organization a ‘red box’ to test new ideas. But we can certainly take the time to listen, mentor and fund a few choice ideas percolating within our organizations.

The good news is that companies large and small are ripe with entrepreneurial talent. Generation Y employees, and the younger millennials (born after 1980), were not raised like the generations that came before them. They were not told to keep their heads down, put one foot in front of the other and not to cause problems. They were raised to think independently and make a difference. Growing up with social media, millennials are accustomed to interaction, dialogue, opinion and debate about anything and everything, at work and at play.

Today, smart leaders drive innovation by making their workplace more appealing, stimulating and engaging. It’s no small change – you want to attract and retain the best of the best. But it’s all based on basic skills: listening, sharing, empowering and collaborating. Ready to get started? Have a positive attitude. Build a culture of belief. Blow up the barriers that divide the thinkers from the doers. Success will follow.

The Perfect Dose of Innovation

MedAvail is reshaping the future of healthcare and Spyder Works is proud to have contributed to the shaping of MedAvail.

A Canadian company with investments from large pharmacy chains, MedAvail and MedAvail’s MedCenter™ kiosk redefine and extend the reach of today’s pharmacy.

The MedCenter pharmacy kiosk allows customers to fill prescriptions quickly and easily from any location, any time, while on the go.

Says Randy Remme, Chief Technology Officer of MedAvail, “Going to market with a radical breakthrough in technology, convenience and the engagement of pharmacy customers required an understanding of the healthcare business and an intimate knowledge of customer experience. John and his team at Spyder Works brought it all to the table.”

With easy deployment into convenient locations, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, and corporate clinics, customers have ready access to their prescription medication and OTCs without having to travel to a pharmacy.

Says John Paulo Cardoso, founder and Chief Creative Officer, “In creating the brand and contributing to the design elements of the user interface for the OTC version of the MedCenter, our team looked past the technology to the positively disruptive experience for the customer. As with all of the breakthrough market launches that we work on, clarity of concept is paramount – customers need to understand and engage with ease or the opportunity will be lost.“

MedAvail’s MedCenter can be located virtually making them pharmacy’s answer to the ATM, and providing the ultimate in convenience and ease of use for the pharmacy customer.

The Pizza Saver and nine other innovations that surprise and delight

Originally published on August 12, 2014 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-digital/innovation/the-pizza-saver-velcro-shoes-and-eight-other-breakthrough-innovations/article19934732

Many business leaders shy away from innovation because they think it’s too complicated, but in reality, the process is easier than they think. Successful innovation harnesses the obvious.

The essence of innovation lies in understanding consumer needs and capitalizing on market shifts. It’s about continually re-engaging customers by meeting their changing wants and needs, even before they realize they’re changing.

Companies should start by recognizing the many practical, easy and effective examples of innovation. The following 10 examples will set your brain spinning and help you see how simple it can be to develop new products, services and processes that make a splash in any market.

The common theme? They’re all examples of ways to surprise and delight customers by addressing one of their challenges.

1. Pizza Saver: Seriously? The mundane little table-like plastic part that holds the top of the box away from the pizza? For those who suffered through university with pizza stuck to the inside of cardboard boxes, life has never been the same. Kids today have no idea how good they have it, but Carmela Vitale does. She was awarded a patent for this three-legged wonder in 1985.

2. Cakepop: Credit Angie ‘Bakerella’ Dudley for this delightful creation. The lollipop-type pastry is bright, fun, engaging and a wonderful treat. It will never be mistaken for health food, but it’s a huge improvement over a big slab of cake, and the on-the-go ease of the lollipop stick is perfect for today’s hectic pace.

3. Double-window drive-through: If the drive-through wasn’t already fast food’s answer to our busy lifestyles, the double window was the icing on the cake. The second window lets restaurants separate the money exchange from food service, saving time and reducing friction. Simple, yes, but a nice addition to the customer experience.

4. Taco Bell’s breakfast taco waffle: Behold, a taco-shaped waffle shell wrapped around a sausage patty or bacon, with scrambled eggs and cheese, served with syrup. Why did this make the list? Taco Bell has finally figured out an in-brand way to extend its hours of operation and generate more revenue per square foot. Operating leverage is a tasty treat for every business.

5. Wheels on suitcases: Thank you, Bernard Sadow, for introducing these babies in 1970 (despite the fact he was turned down by countless department-store buyers). What traveller wants to lug 50 pounds of baggage through never-ending airport terminals? For the record, it took humanity a year longer to put wheels on suitcases than it did to put a man on the moon.

6. The HondaVAC vaccum cleaner in the Honda Odyssey: This was a tough one. Do busy families choose the Dodge Caravan’s Stow ‘N Go seats, which let you create more storage space in your minivan without having to haul out the seats? Or do they choose the Odyssey, with its built-in Shop-Vac ready to clean up every little spill? Choice is good.

7. Velcro shoes: For those too young or too old to fuss around with laces, and for their care-givers, Velcro closures are a game changer. They make the great outdoors more accessible than ever. Plus, a shout-out for Velcro jumping, where you slip into a full-body Velcro suit and leap onto Velcro-covered walls, just for the heck of it.

8. Self-sealing envelopes: For those entrepreneurs who used to end each business day writing out cheques and licking their tongues raw – what took so long?

9. The Post-It note: It’s the semi-sticky poster child for simple, breakthrough innovations. But with 3M producing 50 billion of these a year, how can we ignore it? Especially since the humble Post-It brand has now become the national sponsor of the speed-innovating phenomenon known as Startup Weekend.

10. Squeezable jars: Whether you’re pouring mayonnaise, jam, honey, or ketchup, the squeezable jar is welcome relief for every meal. Old brands such as Britain’s Marmite spread are finding new life in plastic packaging. Little things make a big difference.

If you’re out to make a difference in your market, you’ll face two well-known barriers to change: the naysayers who argue “that’ll never work” or those who say “we don’t have time to innovate.” Ignore them. Target a problem. Look for simple solutions. And keep the innovations coming.