In my research for Innovate to Dominate, the next edition of the Facing the Forces of Change® series to be published in November, I found that distributor leaders understand that culture plays an essential role in determining a distributor’s ability to innovate. Active innovation cultures support innovation efforts by generating new ideas and embracing change as innovation plans are implemented. The opposite is also true. If employee values and behaviors resist change, innovation efforts fall flat. But, recognizing the importance of culture is not enough. Leaders must have an actionable framework for evaluating their current culture concerning innovation and a process for strengthening their culture.

A recent article in MIT Sloan Management Review, “Grow Faster by Changing Your Innovation Narrative,” provides essential insights for distributors around culture and innovation, starting with an insightful definition. Innovation narratives are what a company’s employees believe about a company’s ability to innovate. It turns out that four levers are most often used by innovation leaders to drive growth and stay ahead of competitors. We share the four levers below, followed by insights from our ongoing Facing the Forces of Change research. Our goal is to provide insights to help distributors get started on improving their innovation narrative, and the entire article is an essential read for developing fully actionable plans. The four innovation levers are the following:

  1. Invest in innovation talent. Successful innovation starts with assigning individuals and teams to lead the company’s innovation efforts. Distributors can strengthen talent by exposing them to innovation thought leadership at innovation conferences outside the distribution industry and by partnering with local colleges and universities that have launched centers of innovation or innovation incubators.
  2. Encourage prudent risk taking. Distributors often innovate only around best practices that assure a return on investment. But, learning from innovation starts with taking a risk. It’s essential to learn from failures as well as success.
  3. Adopt a customer-centric innovation process. All customers, like all distributors, are seeking to find their place in changing markets and in the digital age. Distributors can help themselves by helping their customers. This builds a distributor’s reputation as a valued partner that is “here to help.”
  4. Align metrics and incentives with innovation activity. Recognition and rewards send critical messages to employees about their work, performance and outcomes that matter to a company’s leadership. Innovation is a team effort, and implementing innovation metrics and rewards across the entire organization is mandatory.

We found this article as part of our ongoing research for Innovate to Dominate, the 12th edition in NAW’s Facing the Forces of Change® series. Innovate to Dominate will provide a comprehensive road map for distributor innovation, digging deeper into these levers for change and value-add opportunities. If you read this post and have different ideas or experiences, or questions you want answered, please reach out to me at [email protected]. And, if you want to be at the head of the line to preorder Innovate to Dominatesubmit this form.