By Andrew Hupert
Just before Chinese New Year, I was in a Shanghai sales meeting where the owner of a European company was discussing post-holiday sales projections. The talk was all “new, innovative, out of the box”, but the walk was all about doing the same old thing only bigger and/or cheaper. I’ve been to this rodeo before. Some of the expensive new marketing initiatives put into place 6 months ago were about to whither and die.
If you are a straight-arrow manager trying some “out of the box” thinking in China you are going to need a strategy for gauging and recognizing success in the early stages. Most of all you need to avoid squandering your investment by pulling the plug too early.
Here are some ideas that might help:
I’m not one of those “innovate or die” guys. I like figuring out what works and doing it more – better, cheaper – faster. Sometimes that means reinventing and cleaning house. Sometimes it means refining and removing bottlenecks.
But let’s assume you went off and tried something new. A compensation plan. An advertising campaign. An operating structure. A product. A brand. You get the idea.
5 innovative ideas for 1,000,000 bottom-line managers:
Out-of-the-box thinking is expensive, risky and uneven. You have to manage and budget accordingly. Top managers aren’t going to innovate and develop new operating procedures on their lunch hour or weekends. It’s an investment. That means risk and return. You have to strike a rational balance and live with the choices you make. Innovation ain’t for wussies.
People resent the barrier-breaker and will try to make his efforts fail. First, make sure that YOU are not this guy. (Lot’s of interesting ideas get squashed on impulse by managers JUST LIKE YOU.) Then, prepare to intervene and use the force of your soft power as well as policy to give your innovation time to work. Informal support is almost as important as budget and manpower.
Exceptions have to made – budgeting, expenses, quotas, standard operating procedures. This is messy, and can definitely lead to resentment and internal combat — especially when one team is following a different business model. Hard-ass managers hate exceptions. Tough. If you don’t get messy, you’ll never build anything new.
Scheduling has to be flexible. Similar to #3, but oh, so much more difficult. China is notorious for scheduling and timeline nightmares. It always seems that 3 wheels are ripping at the pavement while one is stuck in reverse. I’ve tried yelling, “Just fix it!” in a variety of tones, volumes and speed. Doesn’t work. Also, beware of calling a job finished at the 75% mark. If you take your eyes off the ball too soon you might have problems.
It needs to be ramped up if it works. This can be the trickiest part. Let’s say your new sales approach or product development is a success. Now what? Some of you are in industries that demand constant change – but others of us tend to get paid well for doing what works well. It’s that second group that needs this last warning: if ANY new innovation works, it’s just a matter of time before it becomes industry standard. If you figured something out early then that’s a competitive advantage. If you react too late – that’s a competitive weakness. Have a plan for success.
Andrew Hupert, ChinaSolved