5 budget-conscious ways to remain innovative during a crisis

If a silver lining ever existed around a global pandemic, it’s that crisis cannot exist without opportunity. Times of extreme difficulty compel us to reconsider our surroundings, redistribute our resources, reconnect our teams, and according to a Globe Street article, accelerate the reshaping of our supply chains. This unplanned reckoning requires us to rapidly identify which doors are closing, which are opening, and whether we are equipped to navigate the obstacles in between.

Successful navigation of a crisis comes from understanding that opportunity can be found at every step in the journey, including the closing of a door. This acknowledgement is the cornerstone of the innovative mindset, and if properly cultivated, it has the power to elicit creative problem solving at every link along a supply chain. North Carolina witnessed this in action, as local distilleries pivoted to produce and distribute hand sanitizer to hospitals, and medical device companies, such as Gilero, began using 3D printers to produce ventilators.

However, during a time when so much uncertainty remains, and budgets and supply chains have been dismantled, it is not entirely surprising that only 21% of the 200 executives in McKinsey and Co.’s recent survey feel that they have the “expertise, resources, and commitment to pursue new growth successfully.” Complicated as it may seem, experts agree that committing to a culture of innovation will assist with post-crisis recovery and growth.

5 strategies for fostering innovation during a crisis

1. Increase Transparency to Involve Loyal Customers

Perhaps a business model has or will need to shift dramatically. In the case of rapidly changing needs and a newly competitive environment, it is absolutely imperative that loyal customers remain engaged. According to PwC, “54% of companies say customer engagement strategy helps define innovation from early ideation,” and “35% of companies say customers are their most important innovation partners.” By increasing transparency to customers, organizations empower loyal supporters to provide real-time feedback, advice, suggestions, requests, and the desire for future innovations.

Notably, a Sprout Social survey stated that 85% of customers are likely to remain loyal to a business during a brand crisis if it has a history of being transparent. This is significant in that a study by Brand Keys found that a mere 7% increase in loyalty can elevate lifetime profits per customer by as much as 85%. Additionally, solicitation of information from customers and clients can decrease reaction lag, reduce or eliminate the cost of redesign, and increase innovation effectiveness.

2. Employee Empowerment Leads to Innovation

A critical rule to follow when it comes to maximizing the innovative value of a workforce is to involve each and every employee in the process. According to a report by The Corporate Innovation Imperative, 57% of companies reported that fostering a culture of innovation and experimentation was a top challenge for them. By engaging all employees from the very beginning, an organization will be better able to take advantage of opportunities, identify potential issues, and develop creative solutions in a proactive manner. In return, employee engagement has shown to increase, as perceived value in contributions increases. This is key to competitive agility, profitability, and sustainable innovation.

3. Creative Space and Time

When all employees are innovators, it is necessary to provide space and time to think creatively and provide responses and ideas that will be seen for consideration. Without a chosen method of contribution, and a communicated timeline of review and response, the process can easily become a bottleneck. By providing a space such as project management, creative, or polling software to solicit feedback and ideas, employees will be able to respond when they have had an opportunity to prepare. Software solutions for creative contributions also assist with busy schedules and aid creative timelines for those employees who tend to do their best thinking away from the office.

4. Innovating with Supply Chain Partners

In the not-too-distant past, business leaders often overlooked supply chain partners as part of the innovation process. However, now is the time to consider this possibility. A supplier relationship that is built from the start with innovation and transparency at the core can be a priceless asset that contributes to agile growth. At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the strength of supplier relationships greatly affected business continuity and resilience. According to an article by Neils Bray on Supply Chain Dive, “The closer and stronger a pre-existing supplier relationship is, the more likely it will persevere through a crisis — even if business is paused or disrupted.”

5. Contests, Recognition, Achievement

Always, but especially during tough times, taking the time to recognize employees, customers, supply chain partners, and even community contributors goes a long way toward fostering innovation. The best way to reinforce innovative contributions is to acknowledge and show appreciation for the achievement. Organizations that have a strong solicitation plan through contests and recognition are able to foster outside and in-house innovation on a smaller budget than most. Additionally, through student contests, promising innovators can be identified and recruited early without competing and wading through the talent pool.

Innovate through the tough times

Successful businesses are not the ones that simply grow steadily throughout market booms. They are the ones that know how and when to innovate, particularly during economic downturns. From empowering agile teams to reducing inefficiencies in tech, there are many opportunities to remove redundancies. However, the true focus during a crisis should be on community. People, both internal and external, want to be heard. Enhancing supplier relationships, working alongside stakeholders, recognizing your team, and acknowledging your customers – all reinforce that you are here for the relationship, not the dollar. This core tenet is what pushes businesses through crises and creates a loyal base of strategic partners, teammates, and clientele, propelling your business to the future.  

Written by Vaco contributor Angela Fisher
Angela Fisher is a seasoned experiential strategist focused on project management and partnership development. She is the founder and co-owner of Populate Productions, a North Carolina-based event and media production agency. Angela is best known in the Triangle area for designing experiences that draw thousands of new customers to mixed-use developments and downtown businesses.

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