Cultivating Great Ideas to Solve Business Problems!

Ideas to solve business problems

Solve business problems by cultivating great ideas!
Most small to mid-sized business owners spend more than 98% of the time working in their business and, less than 2% working on their business. This doesn’t leave much time to solve business problems or, to generate new ideas. Yet new ideas and outside the box thinking are critical for improving performance, profit and adding value. Following are some suggestions areas to cultivate great ideas to solve business problems.

Employees
If the company’s culture encourages authenticity and openness, then suggestions from employees can be a terrific source of fresh ideas. A few years ago, a client asked me to facilitate a meeting of company employees.  The goal was to encourage great ideas and suggestions from them.  A college intern, who had only been with the company a few weeks, reported that many of the company’s vendors send damaged merchandise, short ship, late ship or return goods that have to be restocked. She mentioned that these practices had been an unnecessary expense, for which the business was unwittingly absorbing the cost. The intern’s suggestion was to send out a quarterly report card to all vendors. First, explaining the reason for the new policy and secondly to grade the vendor’s performance. Any vendor that received a “C” grade or lower for two consecutive quarters was put on notice that unless their score improved, they would be replaced . The new practice resulted in a savings of more than $250,000 in the first year.

Suppliers/Sub Contractors — Strategic Relationships
Do you think of your vendors (suppliers) and sub-contractors as “vendors” or strategic alliances? Mark Richardson, author of the best selling book How Fit is Your Business, suggests “Eliminating the word “vendor” from your team’s vocabulary – and replace it with “strategic alliance.” Doing this, he claims, re-stacks the deck and causes you to look at them differently. “You both look for win-win solutions and ideas,” Richardson says. “These strategic alliances, are worth ten times more than other alliances. They will provide more ideas, contacts, and insights that really help your business.” He further suggests that “once you find them, you need to invest more time and energy into them.” For more about Mark Richardson, http://www.linkedin.com/pub/mark-richardson/a/268/966.

Your Customers
Customers are more than willing to share their ideas, however, it’s usually when they’re dissatisfied.  A client, who is a manufacturer of liquid dispensing guns (like grease guns), asked customers at a trade show exhibit, for any ideas they might have. One customer talked about how much easier the company’s products would be to use, if they offered a cordless version, much like the cordless power tools marketed and sold today. Within a short time a prototype was created and today that client is the leading manufacturer and marketer of cordless liquid dispensing guns in the country.

Giving and Getting
Developing relationships is seldom a one-way street. When you position yourself differently, reciprocity is often the result. Consider making referrals, or presenting a talk on a topic you’re passionate about. Giving back is not only “the right thing to do,” it helps cement relationships and makes you a better person.

For some, this way of thinking seems obvious, these are the people who “connect the dots.” Others may get the message, but it takes a lot of effort to shift their thinking and behavior. Then there are those who guard themselves to tightly that they will never get it. If you really want to improve your business, encouraging the help of those around you is a great place to start.

About Alan

Alan Adler is an executive coach, speaker & author.

04. August 2012 by Alan
Categories: Business leadership, Customer Experience, Human Resources, Marketing, Non-profit, Recruitment & Re, Social Media/Busines | Tags: , , , , , , | 34 comments

Comments (34)

  1. Good article. Thanks for notifying me about it.

  2. Very true! Good stuff!

  3. Employees can be a great source of ideas as the article suggests but to get the best ones something more than a simple suggestion scheme is required.
    For me this is Kaizen which is a combination of two Japanese words KAI(Good),ZEN(Change).
    It allows you to get two ideas a month out of your front line staff and a minimum of 6 from team /shift leaders in fully worked out and costed form.
    What this means is that with 100 front line employees you are getting 200 ideas a month in non worked form and another 60 from 10 shift/team leaders assuming a span of control of 1 to 10.
    With the ideas from the front line the procedure is to cascade them upwards as follows:
    –Ideas with no cost or political or IT implications are implemented straightaway or within 48 working hours
    –Ideas with cost implications to finance for evaluation
    –Ideas with IT implications to IT and then to finance for evaluation
    –Politically sensitive ideas to the board who can reject the idea,send it to finance or IT for evaluation after approving it in principle or send it back for reworking
    All rejected ideas ,which normally amount to 90% of those submitted are decided upon within 14 days and the reasons for rejection are communicated back to the suggestor in a constructive way.
    The 10% that pass muster might make a 0.25% improvement on existing practices so 10% of 260 ideas gives you 26 implementable ideas a month or a 6.5% improvement every month.
    Combined with the suggestion procedure is a system of incentives which might include lunch with the team leader and lunch with the Managing Director or President once a year for the person producing the most good suggestions and for the very best one of all perhaps a weekend break or a holiday for them and their spouse/partner.
    The incentives are of course self funding out of the monetary value created out of the suggestions and the extra profit generated by the workforce for no extra pay.
    I was the first person in the UK to use Kaizen which is a technique originally used to eliminate waste in factories in a UK Pet Insurance company which later became a subsidiary of Allianz,Europe,s largest composite insurer.
    The irony of Kaizen is that it was developed by the Japanese as a response to aerial bombardment by the American Airforce who were trying to destroy Japan,s manufacturing capacity during World War 2.
    As a technique Kaizen can be used alongside other operational improvement techniques and can also be applied to sales,marketing and channel strategy to bring in more money whereas BPR or BPI will improve and streamline processes to shorten sales cycles and improve cashflow

    • John,

      Thank you for taking the time to post the above terrific comment. I was introduced to the “Kaizen” philosophy, I think from writings of Charles Edwards Demming. Wonderful message and with them comes wonderful results.

      Thank you again,
      Alan

    • Thanks for elaborating on Kaizen – it added an interesting and valuable dimension to Alan’s idea blog.

  4. Thanks, Alan!

    Great advice! This ties in to a webinar I’m giving next Friday.

    • Joy,

      Thank you for posting your comment. Feel free to copy, credit and re-publish my blog articles whenever you think that they may be of help to others.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  5. Alan, I enjoyed your post. I agree that vendors/strategic alliance partners, customers, and employees can all be great sources of new ideas to improve your business or prompt ingenuity. The problem I observed in most organizations I’ve been a part of is that many managers let their ego get in the way of receiving these new ideas. Mistakenly thinking they must have all the answers or their ideas are the best they don’t need to solicit any others.

    I’ve found the best managers and leaders are those who actively seek input and new ideas from their employees, vendors and customers. They recognize that these constituents bring different perspectives to the business and they welcome and embrace their opinions, thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and feedback. The best managers are those who can actively seek out new ways to do things and sift through new ideas and select those that make the most sense for their business.

    I encourage more managers to embrace and actively solicit ideas from all constituents including their subordinates. You never know what you might discover.

    • Janine,

      I’m pleased that you enjoyed the post. Thank you for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more about egos getting in the way and thinking outside the box.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  6. Good stuff Alan. There are really only two fundamental transactions in business–selling and buying. All other activities are supportive in nature. Selling and buying happens best when there is a good relationship between the parties and when the value propositions (which stem from the ideas) are clearly apparent.

    • Bill,

      Thank you for posting a comment. Going back to “fundamentals” are an excellent way to improve a business or organization.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  7. The most positive than can come out of employee ideas is the moral building that can be achieved. Further, when employees can take “ownership” of their implemented idea they become better employees and the dreaded turn-over issue because less of a problem. Great stuff, Alan.

    • Art,

      Thanks for your comment. You are so right. Many terrific things can be achieved when leaders recognize and encourage collaboration and empowerment.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  8. Great insight! FYI — you may may to use the word suppliers instead of vendors — there is much sensitivity about that term!!!

    • Sharon,
      Thanks for posting your comment. I originally thought to use the word “suppliers” in place of “vendors” however, the person I was quoting from referred to vendors. I did make a change however, that captures the essence of your suggestion.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  9. The last sentence rings well with me, “If you really want to improve your business, encouraging the help of those around you is a great place to start.” There is no way to be successful by going at it alone. Form your strategic alliances with the best qualities of those around you.

    Good article, Alan. Thanks!

    • Brandon,

      Thank you for your insightful post. I hope others drink the Kool-Aid also, to realize that “COLLABORATION” is everything in today’s NEW NOW!

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  10. I hope people caught your point that everyone that is touched by your business or touches your business is part of your professional network. Wise people make sure that those in their network receive more value than they expect whether a supplier, employee or companies working together on a cooperative venture.

    • Alex,

      Thanks for posting your comment. I hope that many of those reading my blog “connect the dots!”

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  11. Alan, this posting is why I enjoy being around you. As the sole proprietor of my consulting firm, my ideas are validated around others who enjoy being around me and enjoy my vitality. Being around others who share a common interest enriches creativity and emboldens one thoughts and ideas to actions. You just say it so much better than I can.

    • Felix, Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful comment. Helping people “connect the dots” is what I love to do most, except when others help me.

      Thanks again,
      Alan

  12. Good article, Alan. Thanks!

  13. Thanks Alan. Always enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas!

  14. Great article! I think you can expand it into one more channel with our Customers – offering them suggestions for improvement not just asking for suggestions, especially if it will increase their bottom line. In business we expand our profits by increasing our revenue or decreasing our costs. Make the suggestion; you never know where it might take you. It could be a product or service you already offer, or it could be a new product or service which is a natural extension of your current offerings.

  15. Good reading with deeper meaning. The method of receiving information from either employees or customers needs to be part of a teaching/learning or training process. Most employees (and more times managers) do not take the “change” information they received as valuable. They are “bond” by systems and processes. Keep it going Alan.

  16. Voice of Customer is an integral part of company innovation and the value stream. This was a great article, Alan with pertinent examples. Thanks for sharing.

    I thought you also might like to take a look at two of my favorite websites/organizations for innovation and design.

    http://www.ideo.com
    http://www.frogdesign.com

    Keep up the good writing.

    • Renee,
      Thanks for the nice comment and recognizing the importance of the “voice of the customer.” Appreciate the websites you’ve suggested.
      Thanks again,
      Alan

  17. What a great article. I have been using the term “partnership” with sponsors of events that I manage for about five years now. It opens the dialogue more to hear what the company goals are and to learn how they want to be more engaged in a show or conference. As one company executive said to me “I will provide you with the sponsorship dollars. I expect you to execute and put my name everywhere without coming back and asking me to pay for a banner, etc.” When he showed up at our conference, I had his logo in five different places that weren’t part of the actual benefit package. It didn’t cost the conference anymore as they were signs that I had to make anyway…and adding a logo didn’t add to the price. However, it sealed the deal for them to continue sponsoring for multiple years. All because I listened and heard.

    Listening to what is ‘not said’ gives plenty of ideas and suggestions. I agree with the one post that many managers or owners let their ego get in the way of great ideas that are low or minimal cost to implement.

    • Donna, Thank you so much for your insightful response. It sounds like you’re well on your way to connecting the dots. Keep up the great work!
      Alan

    • Donna, Thanks for the valuable comment. I love your perspective on this topic. Alan