Innovation in a company: Staying competitive

07 August 2020 by National Bank
Business innovation

Companies that want to stay competitive have no choice but to show creativity, regardless of their economic situation. Are you an entrepreneur who’s wondering how to create a sustainable culture of innovation within your SME? Here’s some advice from our expert. 

Insist on the importance of innovation

Innovating means generating and executing new ideas and methods. This could apply to both products and services as well as processes and work procedures. Innovation affects production processes as much as marketing or human resources. For example, you could improve your company’s productivity by introducing robotics to your production chain. Imagine a manufacturer with access to metal 3D printing, which would allow them to create pieces that are more effective, yet lighter. But helping your company adapt can go beyond just technology.

“Innovation is what will allow your company to become, or remain, one of the more profitable organizations in the marketplace. If you rest on your laurels, your competitors will pass you by, especially in times of economic insecurity when things can change much faster. Innovating and adapting are what will ensure the viability of your entrepreneurial projects,” explains Martin Cinq-Mars, Senior Advisor, Commercial Banking Sales Effectiveness at National Bank.

“Innovation will shape the development of your company. It has to be an integral part of your strategic planning by forecasting the direction in which you’re heading in the short or long term, and by dictating the steps to follow to get there.”

Fostering a culture of innovation

“To create an environment that’s conducive to change, encouraging your employees to participate is crucial,” the expert recommends. “The initiatives shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of management. Listen to your team, and let them speak honestly when you ask them what managers can do to improve efficiency, profitability or productivity. Are you going through a major change? Are you implementing new methods within your company? Make sure that human resources are keeping your employees informed of any important developments. Train your team little by little so they don’t get overwhelmed by what’s going on and to boost their motivation.”

“You could also dedicate a portion of people’s schedules to elevation projects to help stimulate creativity in the company. In my department at National Bank, about 80% of our time is dedicated to our usual workload, and the remaining 20% to initiatives that could change our company for the better. That’s one interesting way of implementing a culture of innovation.”

The members of the organization are the ones who best understand how it operates, and who are likely to come up with innovative solutions. For example, a technician who’s affected by a particular process could very well suggest new methods based on their field experience. That being said, external experts could also prove to be a precious resource if you wish to revaluate your procedures and production processes.”

“These initiatives can also come from clients. Their feedback is precious, so make sure to ask for it and to treat it with utmost importance. Whether through online surveys or in-person discussions, any wise manager knows to listen to their clients and take their suggestions into consideration wherever possible. Any company can embark on this path, regardless of their size.”

Knowing how to adapt to the current marketplace

“Once a culture of innovation is ingrained into your company’s DNA, it’s time to take action. To do so, you have to be able to detect market trends and apply them to the current situation. You can take the example of an industrial engineering company that, a few years ago, when the industry was going through technological upheaval, had to adapt to a brand-new marketplace, or else quickly become obsolete. Its clientele and business model were reviewed so it could gain a foothold as an emerging company and become profitable again,” Cinq-Mars says.

“Innovation is sometimes necessary to adapt to a new normal, if only to compensate for the negative effects. Similarly, you have to be able to anticipate disruptions that will affect both your clientele as well as your workforce. I believe that remote work is a key trend for any company that is in a position to allow it. National Bank has had a work-from-home policy for a few years. They knew that commuter trains, a transit system that many of its employees use, would have its service scaled down. So, they made sure to implement the right policies to maintain its workforce by allowing employees to work from home.”

“Working from home is a major innovation in terms of recruitment as well,” the expert notes. “Discounting geographic limitations means you’re significantly expanding your candidate pool. You can find employees all across the country. Finally, working from home also reduces certain major costs, particularly rent for your business offices. If your employees are staying home, you’re saving space.” But be careful: creating a remote work policy for your company comes with its share of human and technological challenges. You have to ensure your employees have all the right tools, all while mobilizing them remotely.

“E-commerce is another big trend right now,” Cinq-Mars points out. “In the last few years, we expected this to become more popular. But given the economic context in 2020, everyone saw how strong this need became. Would it pay off if you revaluated the transaction and communication methods you use with your clients and suppliers? You’ll save time by dealing with your suppliers through their website directly. I suggest that you define and test new processes for working faster and more efficiently. What if you completely reviewed your company’s work schedules? Are you really tied to the nine-to-five model? Would some of your employees be open to working nights or on weekends? All of this could boost your employees’ productivity and, who knows, maybe even improve the customer experience.”

Innovation through introspection

“Whether your initiatives are technological or social in nature, I encourage you to think about what’s motivating you to innovate. As we saw in spring 2020, many companies reinvented themselves by changing their production chain. They wanted to offer a brand-new product or service to address a one-time need on the marketplace. But what will they do beyond this opportunity? Your innovations have to adapt to the current context while remaining profitable in the long term, regardless of the market’s status. That’s why it’s important to revaluate your internal processes, your target clients, and your product or service’s positioning and marketing,” Cinq-Mars concludes.

Innovation is essential to the growth and advancement of a company’s skillset. Developing innovative solutions is a way to become more competitive and ensure a company’s success. There are many private and public research centres and NGOs that exist to help companies implement innovation into their operations, like CRIQ and ADRIQ.

Do you have questions about your company projects? Our advisors are here to guide you.

Legal note: The information that appears in this article is provided for illustration purposes only and is not exhaustive. For advice on your personal or business finances, and to determine whether the features described in this article are right for you, please speak with your National Bank advisor or, if applicable, a professional (accountant, tax expert, lawyer, notary, real-estate agent, etc.).

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