Innovation that directly benefits the customer is a key element to a company's success. Even with the best products, friendliest employees and competitive prices, no organization can afford to remain static while competitors, technology and consumers move forward.

Rob-ConnellyBy Rob Connelly, President of Henny PennyI personally know the value of stressing innovation within the organization. At Henny Penny, we talk about it, we invest in it, and we celebrate it as a company.

Every company claims to focus on making excellent products or offering service excellence, building partnerships and stressing the importance of their people. Unfortunately, while it is easy for many companies to say this, actually following through on these promises represents a completely different obstacle. Simply put: the key to valuable innovation — and ultimately success — is commitment. The path to practical, meaningful innovation begins with three steps:

  • Asking challenging questions such as, "How can we be more creative; scalable; effective?"
  • Eating, breathing and planning for opportunities to innovate — both internally and externally.
  • Regularly measuring growth and improving upon it.

We could discuss many, many aspects of innovation and cultivating a culture of openness and forward thought. Let's focus on the first element above: asking the right questions.

At first, it might seem easy to suggest asking questions. After all, asking questions doesn't really change anything ... does it?

All that depends on the kinds of questions being asked and how receptive decision makers within your company are to those questions.

Here are some sample questions to ask that can help you rethink how you're affecting current processes and maybe create some new ones:

How are we measuring success for each department? Each division? Does this measurement truly reflect what each organization does? Are the goals for success directly related to the company's mission?

Are we consistently and thoroughly hearing what our customers are saying about our goods and services? Are we able to drill down into survey data for patterns and trends?

Is our company's leadership willing to be challenged and proven wrong? Are we open to new ideas from anyone within the company? By what the company is doing, are we showing we value something else more than innovation and success serving our customers?

Does our corporate culture genuinely encourage and reward innovative thinking and problem solving? What programs and training do we have in place to foster original thinking, an open environment, and creative solutions? Are we willing to be assessed and make changes, however painful, to become more agile and forward thinking?

Asking these types of questions can help factories, dealers and designers work with their operator customers to develop solutions that can address such complex issues as cost and energy savings and sustainability.

Any organization can hold brainstorming meetings, form committees, and plot product roadmaps. It takes a different kind of company to take the next steps of actively pursuing an innovative spirit.