Innovation: The Secret Sauce to Surviving Disruption


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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Innovation is a key component of growth in manufacturing, but it can often fall by the wayside.

Article 6 Minutes
Innovation: The Secret Sauce to Surviving Disruption

In manufacturing, innovation increases productivity and efficiency and designs better ways of working, but many manufacturers are so invested in keeping things running that they end up struggling to scale their innovations or are unable to give them the investment they need. As a result, they miss out on major opportunities to become leaders in their field.

These organizations don't run out of good ideas – they're simply caught up in reaching to change, and are yet to realize the incredible value that innovation can bring.

In times of disruption, staying focused on innovative practices is vital. A recent study by McKinsey tells us that innovation is more critical than ever, and companies that invest in this business practice outperform the rest of the market by up to 30%.

So, if you want to stamp out the competition, innovation is a fundamental process that needs to be at the heart of your strategy.

Innovation in the time of COVID-19

As you navigate post-COVID-19 recovery, your innovation portfolio should be top of your agenda.

According to McKinsey, “prioritizing innovation today is the key to unlocking post-crisis growth”. Their data shows that 90% of executives believe that COVID-19 will change the way they do business over the next 5 years, while 85% are concerned that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on customer demands. Interestingly, only 21% feel they’re equipped to face the challenges ahead, and two thirds of executives agree that this will be the most challenging period in their career.

The study also reveals a drop in innovation as companies work through short-term issues brought on by the pandemic. But in times of crisis, it’s essential for businesses to address a number of areas and not get too focused on one problem. Urgent actions include identifying new opportunities in a shifting landscape, reviewing innovation as well as resources allocated to these activities, finding ways to remain competitive, and building a foundation for post-crisis growth.

An unstable economy and changes to customer needs mean that the formula to success is no longer what it used to be. Businesses that don’t adapt won’t be able to enjoy the same level of predictable growth that happened pre-COVID-19. This is why deep change and operational innovation are needed now if you want to transform your company and have success in the future.

Through innovation, manufacturers can prosper where traditional business applications fall short. Some of the benefits include:

  • Developing a competitive edge: By increasing efficiency, speeding up production, and improving customer service delivery, manufacturers can gain an edge over competition. Innovation sparks the next transformation cycle, and digital transformation can level the playing field for many companies looking to grow their market share.
  • Meeting changing customer demands: This isn’t just relevant in the time of COVID-19 - the manufacturing industry is constantly evolving, and to stay ahead of the curve, new ideas are needed all the time. This is especially key as DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) commerce continues to grow, where manufacturers sell direct to their end customer while also trying to meet reseller demands.
  • Improving product design and quality: With DTC on the rise, it’s now possible for manufacturers to garner data from customers and product end users to find out exactly what makes them tick. Innovation fosters the application of data-backed decision making, helping businesses take action when it comes to modifying production methods, changing raw materials, or finding better suppliers.

Continuous innovation

For innovation to garner long-term results, it has to be continuous. The four main areas that will need constant update include sourcing and suppliers, processes, management, and technology.

It’s also important to take a holistic view to innovative practices. A connected, collaborative, and data-centric approach is vital, and this must be organized in a structured process that touches every part of the business. Manufacturers will also need to manage every process carefully to ensure alignment and proper resourcing, while selecting the correct tools to gather, analyze, and present data.

Finally, to foster continuous innovation, business must make it scalable. Learn from accomplishments and failures to create a repeatable formula for success. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the focus should be on sustainable disruptive innovation that displaces the status quo; not just for one but for multiple groups across the organization.

According to Gartner, CIOs must include three core elements when trying to scale proven ideas: ownership, behavior, and process. Each one incorporates “scale breakers” and “scale makers”, and turning these into “scale makers” is the biggest challenge. To do this successfully, projects must have strong ownership from project managers, and there needs to be ongoing development as well as adequate senior management buy-in.

Perseverance is also crucial, as organizations have to be dedicated to scaling innovation, and this means pioneering, proving concepts, and promoting them effectively to stakeholders at every level.

A culture shift is needed

Before innovation can take place, changes have to come from deep within, going beyond what’s happening on the surface. This means you may need to rethink the values that shape your company culture.

Soft skills are the transformative skills that are necessary for innovation to take root and drive forward positive change. This means employers need to pay attention to people – the main cog in the wheel. Nurturing collaboration is paramount, and these are the building blocks of an innovation-driven culture:

1. Trust

Improving trust between employer and employee is the only way to create a culture where innovation is an organic process. This sometimes means flattening the hierarchy and finding human ways to connect with teams, including bonding exercises or simply applying fun and humor in the workplace.  

2. Transparency

The easiest way to build trust within your organization is to be transparent. Keeping teams updated with changes in the company will help workers feel engaged, and this is essential in helping their journey to innovation.

3. Teamwork

Collaboration is more than just a buzzword – it’s a mindset that needs to be shared companywide. This starts from the top, with the main aim being to break down traditional silos. The sharing of ideas and data needs to be in place, and colleagues should be encouraged to work together, not only within their teams but across departments. In a world where the workforce is increasingly distributed, having the right tools and platforms is a must. 

By transforming company culture, manufacturers, and brands can empower their employees to collaborate effectively, paving the way for a more innovative future.

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