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In a recent McKinsey study, 70 percent of corporate leaders profess that innovation is among their top three priorities for driving growth. But the way companies manage and govern innovation doesn't reflect that importance. Henny Penny is successful, not because we haven't experienced innovation challenges ourselves, but because we addressed each issue as it arose and then answered it with an innovative solution. Integrating innovation into every part of the business helps us to keep long-standing customer relationships, as well as achieve industry recognition – most recently, this happened with our 2011 Kitchen Innovation Award for the PriMelt Oil Melter.
In my experience, there are primarily three challenges in particular that customers report encountering across the board that hinder innovation.
The Catch Up Game
Some organizations get caught up in thinking, "that brand is doing really well, what are they doing to have that success," and most dangerous of all, "let's mimic what they're doing." This is playing catch up – a tough cycle to break because you never really break even.
Focusing too much on another company's progress, and too little on your own, results in never having the opportunity to develop your own innovation. For example, do you know the name of the man that invented the second automobile? ...
The solution in overcoming this challenge is in watching the competition, but not allowing yourself to be led by them. Instead, spend time focusing on your customer's issues and opportunities, and solving them with valuable innovation.
The Ambiguity Trap
Many organizations suffer, sometimes unknowingly, from ambiguity. Navigating the path to innovation and success is a dead end if you don't plan for "it." The solution to overcoming ambiguity is in outlining a plan for your desired outcome. I personally know the value of this exercise, and use it to accomplish one of my personal objectives for the year – to spend X amount of time out of the office and in the field with key customers. This helps me anecdotally get a feel for different trends around the world and, ultimately, ensures that fresh information is coming into Henny Penny to inspire ongoing innovation.
Addressing Underdeveloped Talent
The third and final challenge is operating with underdeveloped team members. The problem with this is that when your employees aren't growing, your opportunities for innovation aren't growing either. The solution to overcoming this challenge is as simple as you're probably thinking – develop your employees. Increase your brand's opportunities for innovation and success by helping your team to develop their own expertise – ultimately they'll bring greater, and smarter, ideas for innovation back to your company and customers. This practice is front and center within our company in the form of multiple programs, such as Henny Penny University – our requisite training program – and our Emerging Leader Program, which develops employees through formal education and hands-on experience.
In the end, every organization, whether a supplier or a restaurant, will experience challenges that hinder ongoing innovation. The marked difference between truly successful organizations and everybody else is in eating, breathing and planning for innovation.