Innovation has become a dirty word for many businesses.
Lots of business owners claim it to be an everyday occurrence in their companies, but how many actually live up to their claims and, more importantly, leverage innovation to further their success?
In a study conducted by consulting and research firm McKinsey & Co towards the end of 2020, it found that 90% of businesses believed the next five years would be transformative in terms of whether their business survived or thrived. However, only 21% of those businesses said they had the resources, expertise and commitment to innovation to land on the growth side of that ledger.
As a business leader, Seipel has guided her company through decades of product development, market orientation and logistical priorities to be one of the best medical innovation business stories in Brisbane.
Seipel Group researches, makes and markets clinically proven natural medical products, specifically in bladder control.
But innovation, she says, is not just a word for businesses to toss around.
“You’re inventing,” Seipel says.
“You’re doing something that hasn’t been done before or looking at it in a way that it hasn’t been looked at before. It’s never the cookie cutter box option. It’s something that’s very individualised, and very specific.
“I don’t think there is as much innovation out there as people say. I think truly creating something very unique, very needed and very different, it doesn’t happen as much as people think.”
Smaller businesses are in the innovation box seat
The stats back up Seipel’s claims – especially when it comes to bigger businesses.
You only have to look at the failures of large enterprises across the world such as Blockbuster and Toys R Us to see how bigger businesses simply aren’t geared to innovate. In fact, they did exactly what they were built to do – operate at the highest efficiency at scale for the lowest cost. Blockbuster kept stores open because it thought people liked saying hello to each other as they chose a movie; Toys R Us cheaply built its online presence on Amazon, hence showing its customers just how cool Amazon is.
But Seipel says smaller businesses are in the perfect place to innovate and out-manoeuvre the big guys on a daily basis.
“I’m a distance runner. I’m used to going the long haul with things,” she says.
“I’m used to just persevering. To get to the point where you seem like an overnight success, you just have to be quite determined and persevering.
“As a leader, I haven’t compromised on my quality. I’ve set a certain standard for the product and the research and the marketing. And smaller agile businesses can do that much easier.”
Fostering a culture of innovation is key
Seipel says building and fostering a culture of innovation among your team is a vital tool in being able to move quickly, and having the ability to change course when necessary.
“The key for our team is to be really giving to one another,” she says.
“The larger companies we work with often have lots of processes and stages, and we might have been talking to them for two and a half years with a lead time to launch in another two and a half years. It’s not always how we work, but the key is we can work that way if we have to.
“The attributes of our team are quite dynamic, and very skilled and knowledgeable. They really believe in the products and they really want to help people. That’s a big part of it.”
And while collaboration is evident in most companies, Seipel says it’s especially true in innovative businesses that need people with highly specialised individual skills to work together.
“When I look at our company culture, the attributes of our team are that everybody has to be very collaborative. People I work with often are very skilled in a certain area, but they’re willing to learn and try as hard as they can, and contribute on other levels.
“They have to be generous and very giving, because if they’re not it doesn’t work. If they think they can do it faster or better than somebody else, they have to jump in there and do that. We’re not so hierarchical. We all get in and do it together, and it’s more about who’s more skilled or capable or has more experience in that area.
“And because of that, we can turn on a dime if we have to. Act on innovation as it happens.”
What can business owners do to foster innovation?
Seipel says it’s about finding the balance between moving and staying. There are risks to both – but they can be calculated risks and they can pay off when executed well.
“I think it’s important for people to focus on what they do but to know when to diverge. But it’s a balance between the two, of diverging enough so that if something has a problem in one area, you’re covered in the other. And let’s then focus so that you can keep doing what you do well,” she says.
“We had production issues during the past year thanks to COVID and we have actually, in the last year, changed. We’ve embraced another way of delivering our product to people, so that we reach a larger market, which is not what we normally do but it took some fast moving and thinking to set up.
“It’s really important to have other sources of revenue and sometimes the things you do outside of your normal business model are the things that keep you and your staff when the times are difficult.”
But Seipel says innovation starts and ends at the top – and if you don’t like what you’re seeing in your team and their activities, a long look in the mirror may be required.
“Some people hang on to something that’s not working for far too long, and you might actually need a bit of a reset,” she says.
“Leaders need to know when something is their fault or their job to bring about change. But what I would say is that if you’re feeling like that, that’s normal. Go back to thinking about your vision, what determines success and what actually works. The process may need your attention and action.”
And that sounds just like innovation in action.