Serial entrepreneur Jeff Weber's New Year be more innovative in 2011! His insider secrets to developing new strategies here.

Developing Innovative Strategies in the New Year

by Jeffrey Weber, the founder and past president of Technology Resource Center, Ind. Weber sold TRC in 2006 to a Fortune 100 listed firm, CDW of Vernon Hills, Illinois. He released his first book, I.D.E.A. to Exit: An Entrepreneurial Journey, in 2010. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at Elgin Community College teaching entrepreneurism, a volunteer for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurism & advisor board member for Minorities in Technology Sales.

How do I create a sense of ownership in my employees? How do I create an entrepreneurial environment in my company?

These are questions I’m often asked by  CEOs of large ‘bureaucratic’ corporations.  The term bureaucratic may connotate a negative attribute, where in reality it is a vital necessity of large, mature and established companies.  As a company evolves from the brash, innovative, rapid response start up finding its way – and more importantly, its repeatable business processes – to a demand response driven second or late stage business, it must change.  Two things seem to change the most in that evolution.

First, innovation tends to be replaced with consistency.  Second, the firm becomes more established and procedural – affectionately known as bureaucracy.  Why does this happen?  Briefly, start ups are testing their business models and responding to direct and intimate customer feedback in order to create a recurring and sustainable lead generation system.  Mature businesses have this system working.  Customers are asking for their product or service, and the company has an established mode to respond and fulfill that demand.  As a result, business processes have been refined and perfected.  Maximum efficiency has been created, and those processes are built and managed to be repeatable and consistent.  Rules and procedures are created to protect these established and trusted systems.

As companies grow from their entrepreneurial start up roots, they build processes for almost  every facet of the company.   Within each department, even more processes are created and thus the corporate bureaucracy is born. But again, the bureaucracy is good and necessary.  It is in place to protect what has been proven to work.  What often is missing in this evolutionary growth, and what serves to counter balance bureaucracy is innovation.

Bureaucracy and innovation are the yin and yang of a corporation.  They are opposites and serve two different masters.  Innovation, in many cases, is lost or subservient to bureaucracy because it is the one core aspect of the company that is not assigned a process during the migration from start up to maturity.  Think about it.  Does your company have a process for innovation?  For those of you who said yes, is it restricted to only specific departments like marketing or research and development?  Is there an innovation process in the mail room, the sales department or operations?

The reason innovation is left behind in corporate evolution is that unlike every other defined department that grows and purposely creates repeatable processes, no one is assigned innovation.  Managers are hired to run Marketing, Sales, Operations, Accounting and so on.  However, very few companies hire or assign responsibility to someone to manage and develop innovation.  And thus you are left with CEO’s asking, “How do I create a sense of ownership in my employees?  How do I create an entrepreneurial environment in my company?”

At the core of that sense of ownership and entrepreneurism is innovation.  Innovation is the nuclei of entrepreneurism.  It’s what formed the company to begin with, and it is what is required in consistent doses during its entire duration of existence.  When innovation is absent in a company, the likelihood of continued growth or even sustainability is highly unlikely.  So what can you do about this conundrum?

In short, you need to establish a process for innovation.  You need to assign the development of that process to someone within the organization, and you need the highest levels of the organization to support the innovation process.  The intent of establishing a process of innovation is for it to permeate every department in the company.  One method to achieve this is by creating what I call an “innovation garden”.  Every department should have a garden of its own.  Training for all employees is required to explain your company’s definition and goals for innovation and specially trained “gardeners” are established to tend to the gardens.  Every employee is tasked with the expectations of planting seeds – ideas.  A process to document ideas as they emerge – as simple as placing white boards around the office – is provided to all of those who “plant seeds”.  The gardeners are in place to meet with idea generators to vet ideas and then present applicable ideas to an appropriate review channel.  Executive management’s role is to ensure that appropriate ideas can be prioritized and then implemented .

Is this realistic or possible? Yes, if there is a process in place.  Take the opportunity of a fresh new year to enact a fresh new process.  You may be surprised at the fresh new results.