Let’s start with some negatives. Innovation isn’t just about having an idea about a product, which will change the world. Nor is it the preserve of a few ‘boffins’ sitting in an odd corner of the building and eating pizza as they scrawl strange and incomprehensible formulae on the walls. Most importantly, innovation is not a ‘nice to have provided we can spare the time’ ideal.
Quite simply, innovation is an all-encompassing 21st Century imperative. True innovation infuses every part of the organisation, it drives differentiation and outstanding customer service, it is a by-product of being exceptional and it is the key to success or failure in a world in which every organisation can access the same technology, tools and resources.
But despite all of this, despite the commercial and reputational advantages to be gained from innovation, businesses are still putting up barriers to innovation, effectively killing it stone dead before they even start. I recently gave a keynote speech at the ‘15th Annual Ground Handling Conference‘ in Madrid and one question, which came up regularly in discussion, was how the Ground Handling industry could innovate when it was so heavily regulated.
Regulation as a barrier to innovation is a topic which I have encountered in many industries. Financial services, road transport, communications, even the local fish & chip shop all have their burden to bear when it comes to regulation. And I appreciate that in an industry such as Ground Handling, which has not only to cope with complex logistics but also take account of the safety and security of planes and passengers, those regulations are burdensome. But my answer to any organisation is that whilst regulation is part of business life, that doesn’t mean that business life stops with regulation and innovation is impossible because of it.
Yes every business has to cope with regulation just as every business has to manage with the technology, which is around at the time. But these are baselines, and once you accept that these baselines are common to all, you can then move onward towards innovation and towards providing an exceptional level of service, which differentiates you from others in your industry. Rupert Sadler, Audi’s CEO, when asked about the recession said;
We discussed it thoroughly and decided not to participate.
You can choose whether you want to be a victim of your sector, your industry because innovation is a choice and you have to choose whether you are going to be an innovation leader or not.
To innovate around experiences and systems does require a different approach to business and a focus on areas that drive innovation behaviour and allow the organisation to operate in a changing world. One of the concepts I’ve been working on with clients focuses around becoming a ‘Next Generation Organisation’ which requires an increased focus on Insight, on Agility and on Collaboration.
Having run businesses myself for over a decade I know the problems which face CEOs and leaders and the common challenge of balancing the pressures of business today with planning for the future. And in a business such as Ground Handling those pressures of today can be immense. Restocking and refuelling aircraft, tight turnaround times, managing the movements of hundreds of thousands of passengers and their luggage, all with security and safety in mind is obviously going to create pressures on a daily basis.
So here’s an approach based around the work of John Kotter who talks about businesses needing what he calls a ‘dual operating system’. Your challenge is to build the ability to embed innovation into the DNA of your organisation by operating in two modes. First packaging up the present so that you don’t put ‘today’ at risk. Then building innovation capability to start looking at ‘what’s next’, ‘what else could we do and how could we do things differently?’ in order that you can start thinking about ‘tomorrow’ and this links back into focusing on Insight, Collaboration and Agility and my approach to building a Next Generation Organisation. And the key question which leaders seeking innovation differentiation should ask themselves comes from Steve Ridgway, the former CEO of Virgin Atlantic, namely what will make us unique?
We fly exactly the same planes as everybody else. We fly them under the same very strict safety rules. Yet if you go on one of our planes and experience the service, you’ll see it’s very different from many others.
There is no magic bullet answer but by building towards the Next generation Organisation ideal, by rising above the shackles of regulation you will find that once innovation is out of the bag and infusing every person and every process your business will soar towards the future as innovation will have taken flight.
Everyone says they want or even need to innovate but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few, get in touch and let’s talk.
Got a question? Ask me… firstname.lastname@example.org