Moderator: Scott Nelson
Panelists: Bill Phelan, Bill Verhelle, Rich Vohra, Mark Foley
How do you define innovation? This was the initial question posed by moderator Scott Nelson during the March 3, 2022, Monitor Live+ Panel: Creating a Future for Your Company. In presenting the question, Nelson used the Peter Drucker’s definition to lead off the discussion. “Innovation is an effect in economy and society, a change in the behavior of customers, of teachers, of farmers, of doctors, of people in general”
So, What Does Innovation Look Like to You?
Rich Vohra, VP of Sales at LEAF Commercial Capital, expanded on the Drucker quote by adding that innovation is also about staying relevant. It’s about understanding that what helped you be successful in the past could be the source of your failure in the future. He also discussed how innovation is often viewed as a big change but it’s important that we understand that innovation is also the small incremental changes that are happening frequently. Those changes impact the future of your business and the future of the industry.
At Equifax Commercial, Bill Phelan, SVP and General Manager, views innovation as making a good or service easier and faster at a lower cost. It is also expanding the ability to provide your service or goods.
According to Bill Verhelle, founder of Innovation Finance, “Everything you build in a successful organization reinforces the model you’ve been building, so it makes changing difficult.”
Furthermore, Verhelle views improvement as a means of innovation. In his company, management evaluates its steps to improve by looking at how people respond. If you’re changing your behavior and still no one is picking you, more changes need to be made. Find the type of innovation that brings a new business model instead of innovating with the same model you’ve always used.
Empathy as a Part of Innovation
Empathy is an integral part of creating a culture of innovation within your organization. Mark Foley, director of Payer Strategy at Olive shared how they’ve been able to utilize empathy through understanding what or who has the relevant experience required to address the tasks at hand.
Empathy isn’t always thought of as a business skill, but it can be vital to the success of your organization. Use empathy to put yourself in the place of your target audience, take time to learn from their experience. Business can be very internally focused when we should be more focused on the borrower. Big changes come from shifting your focus and empathy toward the borrower.
Amazon is a prime example of a company that shifted its focus to the customer's needs and perspective. With each move, they are focused on user experience. With that example in mind, Scott Nelson asked the panel what equipment finance industry professionals can do to model that mindset.
Rich Vohra responded by posing the question “If you can’t walk in the customer’s shoes, how can you best serve them?” Improving the empathy you have toward the customer reduces stress, improves your relationship with them, improves business, and creates a better company culture overall. Empathy when used effectively will help the industry thrive.
Culture is Company
“Every company has a culture that has the power to drive the company to innovate or stagnate,” said Nelson.
Specifically, every company has its own unique culture. And the culture that you create within your own company can breed positive or negative outcomes. As we have defined innovation and the power it has to grow a business, we have also seen how important it is that there is a culture that encourages and allows for innovation.
Vohra shared that throughout his career he has found strong leadership to be vital to creating a culture that fosters innovation. Strong leadership inspires employees and leads by example. For him, strong leadership is defined through four key qualities.
Four Key Qualities of Strong Leadership:
- Communication – Have regular and open communication with your employees and provide constructive feedback.
- Transparency – Be open and honest with your employees so that you can gain their trust.
- Delegation – Make sure people are always given tasks they can accomplish effectively.
- Goal setting – Set goals that motivate employees and push them to reach personal and professional success.
Culture change comes from the top down. Develop practices and processes that don’t conform to the typical business model, don’t be afraid to be your own disruptor. Fear of failure kills innovation. When you embrace failure, your team will be empowered to try new things and embrace new possibilities.
Another important aspect of creating a culture of innovation is equal business stature. Phelan shared how he has seen success from adopting the practice of creating an equal playing field when in meetings. No matter how big the company is, when you’re in a meeting everyone should feel able to speak up and share their ideas. This practice will not only help employees feel empowered but will also help leaders to identify those with innovative mindsets.
Finding those with innovative mindsets isn’t always a matter of seeking them out. Oftentimes, those people will find you. It is important when you identify those people who are going to be key players in moving your organization forward that you enable them to do it.
There is no universal way to measure innovation. For Equifax Commercial, they’ve found success in using their vitality index and evaluating new product revenue. Other companies can see evidence of innovation through the adoption of new products and processes. No matter where your company is at in the innovation process, it is important to find ways to measure innovation.