In March, the Lovely Christy and I joined our friends from Service Roundtable in Frankfurt, Germany, for the massive ISH trade fair. With more than 2,500 exhibitors focused on sustainability, cutting-edge design trends, and technological innovations, it was a mind-expanding experience, to say the least.

We returned to the U.S. with a renewed vision for what’s possible in our industry, excitement for things to come and inspiration to help our clients figure out how to maximize opportunities and do things differently to succeed at the highest level. Throughout the show, one word kept coming to my mind: Innovation. The majority of the exhibitors were focused on displaying how they do things differently and how they are helping move the industry forward, and it got me thinking about how we are differentiating and innovating within our own companies. Here are some ways to utilize the “innovation factor” to improve our companies, accelerate our growth and serve our clients better.

 

Foster a culture of innovation

Multiple studies have linked team member satisfaction to an innovation-friendly culture. It represents openness, idea-sharing and valuing the opinions of your people.

Encourage your team members to be involved in the innovation process. Your team members in the field or office might have ideas about how to make improvements, but feel they can’t speak up out of fear that it would come across as being critical to managers and leaders.

Hold a monthly or quarterly “innovation meeting” (or whatever you want to call it), where ideas are openly shared and discussed. It can be a partial update meeting of changes that are happening within the company mixed with an idea-sharing forum.

I’ve written previous columns about recruiting and retaining millennials, and I can’t stress enough that millennials want to be part of innovation and contribute their ideas. So, fostering a culture of innovation actually helps attract and retain top younger talent.

 

Have an innovation plan

The word “innovation” in itself can conjure images of drones, shiny new electronics and self-driving vehicles, but it doesn’t have to be some big, complicated concept in your business. It is something that takes effort, but doesn’t have to be some epic, never-seen-before type advancement. It can be as small as tweaking your presentation process, as large as buying a new piece of equipment or using a completely new software. Regardless, it’s just a focus on doing things as efficiently and effectively as possible.

There are many times I ask clients why they are doing something a certain way, and they reply, “I’ve just always done it that way.” Think about all the aspects of your business that haven’t changed in years; is it because they are truly working well, or because it’s easier to just keep doing it the same way it’s always been done?

Any innovation is just an idea until it is executed, so schedule time to implement and test your ideas, whether you got them from team members, peers or it’s something you came up with yourself, plan some time on a regular basis to focus on new ideas and efficiency.

You have a marketing plan, you have a growth plan, so don’t neglect an “innovation plan.” Most people want to grow their companies or at least run them at their potential, but we all know that doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Whatever you do, don’t try to make too many changes at once; you will become overwhelmed and possibly retreat back to the comfortable/familiar way of doing things. Ideas and innovations need to be well thought out, researched if possible, and have a direct purpose behind them.

You can understand why an innovation plan is helpful; there can be many elements involved, and you need to stay on track. Use a calendar to plot out different aspects of bigger concepts, including follow-up and tracking to ensure the change is producing the results you’d hoped for.

 

Focus on your clients' needs

As you are developing your innovation plans for your company and deciding what to implement or not, here’s a good question to ask yourself: “Will this create a better experience for my clients?”

Now, if you are altering internal processes, some of those might impact team members more than clients, but the more efficiently your internal operations run, the more effectively you are able to serve your clients, too.

If a new mobile-based process will make things easier for your clients, it’s worth exploring. If a new system for presenting options will help your clients better understand what they’re purchasing, it’s worth exploring. You get the idea. Sometimes you will experience resistance from team members who don’t like change, but ultimately, they should understand that providing the Ultimate Client Experience (as I call the sales process I teach) is what’s important.

Staying on top of technology and cutting-edge processes could easily be the deciding factor for a client choosing to do business with you or not. Maybe your competition offers text notifications, but you don’t.

Some clients will actually choose to do business with the competition because they have made it more convenient to do business with them. This is the world we live in now; our clients expect easy, quick communication.

If you show respect for their time and also provide superior service, you are on a great path. The heart of innovation is improvement, so always be thinking about what you can do in your company to provide the best client experience possible.

 

Educate yourself constantly

The fact you are reading this right now means you care about bettering yourself and your company, so you are already on the right track. Attending conferences and trade shows, getting personal coaching, reading blogs and joining industry groups does wonders for keeping your mind in a state of thinking about what’s possible, too.

After attending ISH, I can definitely say I came back with new ideas and inspiration to share with my clients, as well as a focus on what we can do to innovate at my company, The Blue Collar Success Group.

There are so many resources available to help you achieve your goals, and remember innovation doesn’t always involve massive shifts. Innovations can be small improvements that help move your company forward, in whatever direction you choose. It’s not about re-inventing the wheel; it’s about doing things differently.

This industry has changed a lot in the last few years alone, but it’s also been a series of small shifts. The “smart” bathroom countertop I got to interact with at ISH, for example, was a series of small innovations put together into one really amazing product. Today I want you to think about how to incorporate the innovation factor into your company. When you start looking at what’s possible and what’s available, you will discover the path to sustainable growth and goal achievement, one small innovation at a time.