August 24, 2016
An innovative company isn’t just something you build, it’s something you allow to grow. I believe that much of Bluewolf’s success as a business has really come from taking a two-sided approach to innovation. On one hand we always have to think about what’s good for Bluewolf and our clients, but on the other, we’re always listening to new ideas and trusting our people when they step up to take ownership of them. When people have a clear vision and passion for an idea, it succeeds. A belief in that process is one of the main keys to an innovative culture, but in order to work, it has to be supported by management who shares this same belief, backed up by a training program.
Hire and Enable the Right People
The main question you have to ask yourself when building for innovation is: “How do I enable people to pursue what they believe is important?” The biggest piece of that is hiring the right people. One of the questions I always ask during an interview is how that person first began earning money. The answer to that question always reveals what level of self-starter they are. The second question I ask is what would you spend your time doing if money were no object. This reveals how much clarity they have as an individual, and how much passion and drive they bring to those things they believe in. Once you have a solid employee foundation, build an innovative culture by trusting and supporting their intuitions and passions.
Create an Environment of Constant Learning
Once you have a great group of employees, continue to empower them by investing in their growth through hands-on training programs. These programs should focus on the key technical skills which customers demand, but more important are those skills which enhance your customers’ experience when working with you: facilitation skills, design-thinking methods, presentation skills, and so on. The best programs provide thought-provoking opportunities to expand people’s minds. At Bluewolf, we’ve hosted best-selling authors to conduct workshops, conducted hackathons, and our own employees create and teach a range of professional development courses available to the whole company. More than just skills training, these programs are about enrichment, and often provide the spark for employee-driven innovation.
Eat Your Own Dog Food
Whichever cliche phrase you want to use, the message is the same. Inspire your team by embracing and modeling the desired behavior. For example, Caryn Fried, head of global talent management, recently created a new training course, World Class Facilitation, which focuses on cultivating leadership and meeting facilitation skills. The entire executive team took the course before beginning our company-wide rollout. Then, we got on the road and taught the course ourselves across our global offices, from San Francisco to London to Sydney. Outside of leading the workshops, we could also speak to our experience in the course to build enthusiasm and support for it across all of our teams.The right leadership comes from action.
Above all, don’t be afraid to take a risk or to let your employees take risks. The best companies provide room for failure. In fact, I believe that it’s the strongest way to grow. Start small and focus on a single customer as a test case. Bluewolf’s Beyond Services started as our CTO Lou Fox’s solution to one customer’s need for service support after go-live on Salesforce. Now, Beyond accounts for 30 to 40 percent of our business. That transformation and growth didn’t come from making a massive bet. We rallied around a single customer to prove the model, expanded the offering, and when the market was proved, moved on to scaling it.
This strategy of “rapid experimentation” coupled with faith in our employees has been really successful for us. Encourage people to experiment in their areas of expertise and passion. Innovation doesn’t happen without the personal clarity of dedicated people who take ownership of new ideas and hold themselves accountable for their success.