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Don't Call it Innovation

Don't call it innovation

Instead, why not re-invent your company?

by Howard Coleman

In part 1 of this article, I suggested that innovation is something completely new or different being introduced – that changes the marketplace – and it’s “one and done.” Unfortunately, the terminology has been used for years, even when it’s not truly innovative. Because the term innovation has become part of the confusing word salad that litters our business ether – along with transformation, continuous improvement, lean thinking and reinvention – it can become confusing and potentially lead to effort failures.

The fact is, most of us will never achieve real innovation in our businesses. But we can still re-invent ourselves, sometimes as frequently as every 3 years or less, in order to be successful and thrive in today’s world of uncertainty.

But perhaps there is even a more serious issue. Recent data from the Reinvention Academy indicates that people, teams, bosses, and colleagues are fatigued and absolutely exhausted from the endless marathon of changes and new initiatives swirling around us. People simply can’t push forward anymore.

We must address this phenomenom. We need an action plan in order to manage the burnout and infuse fresh and positive energy into our teams, organizations and even into our own lives.

6 Keys to Change: Reinvention is not “one and done”

As I said in Part 1, change sucks. It requires stepping into the unknown. But irrelevance is worse. I suggest that successful change leading to real innovation, through reinvention, requires six steps:

1) Strategy – is “future competitive advantage.” Specifically, what will people (customers) want and need in the future? A key to real innovation is anticipation. Expectations constantly change and grow as demographic, technological and other changes re-wire needs. What will the competition look like in the future?

Often, the biggest opportunities – and threats – to any company come from outside the business category. Look at what happened to the auto industry. Tesla was focused on software and electric, Uber on replacing the car. Gillette and Schick found they had no advantage over Dollar Shave Club, which used YouTube and social media for awareness and sampling, while young men were no longer fixated on being clean shaven – trends each company chose to ignore.

Not moving to tomorrow, in order to protect today, was costly.

2) Acquisition of new skills – is a need to acquire people, channels or technologies to meet new needs and fend off competitive threats. Too many companies waste money and time trying to cover their vulnerabilities to next-generation skills, hauling out some in-house assemblage to which they apply some project name and attempt to roll it out.

Your customers are sophisticated enough to know when you are still learning with training wheels. That does not demonstrate confidence or signal real commitment. Do it right by bringing in top-notch people, where needed, and/or buy other companies that bring credibility and skills.

Funding yesterday at the cost of tomorrow is like starving one’s children in order to fund flowers for an ancestor’s resting place.

3) New organizational design – Most organizations are designed for yesterday or today, not tomorrow. Again, it’s a perfect example of the future not fitting the containers of the past.

New strategy requires new approaches to organizing a company. This is not easy – often, it’s agonizing – but you don’t want to dilute your strategic thinking either.

To drive re-organization, stay focused on maximizing customer benefit, ensuring friction-free collaboration that minimizes duplication, and align decision making with the right incentives.

4) Buy-in – Everything is easy until people get in the way. Or, as Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan untll they get punched in the face.”

Too many companies, after the first three steps, believe their work is done and bring out the balloons and posters.

Everything is great – it’s easy – until people get in the way.

Just telling people that change is good, or sloganeering to goad them into some cult-like devotion, rarely works and will likely fail even after threats of “daily floggings will continue until moral increases.”

If there is nothing in it for them, people find ways to out-maneuver management. If you want an organization – or team – to grow and change, you will need to deliver answers to three questions:

  1. Why are the recommended changes good for them?
  2. How can the change help them grow?
  3. How do these changes impact their compensation?

5) Aligned incentives –
If you want to know if a company’s strategy will work, ask to see their incentive programs.

Change only happens when seismic shifts in compensation and power happen. People do what they are rewarded to do, not what some “change agent” or “Vision 20XX” slogan encourages them to do.

It’s hard enough to change and stupid to go through the pain of change when one is rewarded to stay the same!

6) Education and training – In companies, the shadow between where they are and where they want to be is known as a lack of skills or know-how.

If you want people to behave differently, think differently, work differently, and incentivize them to do so. Companies must also provide ways for their people to learn and grow the new skills and capabilities they will need, usually through self-serve, guided and enabled training.

Learning and development agendas require a significant commitment. The single biggest ROI will be the ability to upgrade the mental and emotional operating skills of their talent. Upgrading skills is more cost-effective, humane and culturally positive than laying off people and bringing in new teams.

No company can grow unless its people grow. The day people stop learning, they stop growing.

Feel free to share your feedback.

Howard ColemanHoward W. Coleman, principal at MCA Associates, a management consulting firm, works with wholesale distribution and manufacturing companies seeking and committed to operational excellence, implementing continuous improvement solutions and much more. Howard is also the creator of the “MCA Talk” Podcast Series: Distribution on the Cusp of Metamorphosis. Contact him at (203) 906-7268 or by email at

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2022 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2022, Direct Business Media.


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