“There Are So Many Competing Agendas, There Is Little Time To Fully Dedicate To Improvement And Innovation” (Myth 9)

When it comes to progressing, developing, and getting the results you want, I use the following hierarchy when helping businesses: Setting the Standard, Improvement, and Innovation.

Before you spend time and effort in improving or innovating, the first thing to do is to always check if a standard is in place. Don’t think too hard, get the basics right, and ensure they are being adhered to. People often interchange improvement and innovation. But innovation goes beyond making improvements; it means taking your organisation to a new level, where speed-to-results is incorporated in your thinking.
 
 
Why do improvement and innovation matter?

We all appreciate that if you don’t make time to improve and innovate, you won’t stay competitive, you won’t make progress, and you won’t have a sustainable business model because all you’ll be doing is covering old ground.

The reasons for this are largely centred around change. Markets evolve, economies shift, customer requirements vary, materials are modified, and employees move on.

So even if you’re carrying out every stage of your routine perfectly, you still need to improve and innovate. If you don’t, you won’t keep up with the changes happening in the world around you. If you do nothing, you’ll be going backwards, since everything and everyone else will be moving ahead.
 
 
Finding The Time

My financial adviser gave me a great piece of advice. He said that, before anything else, you must pay yourself first by setting aside money for savings and investments. Only after you have allocated that money should you pay for your living expenses and put some money away for unexpected events.

Your savings are your investment in your future. Your daily living expenses cover things such as paying the mortgage, bills and food, and your money for unexpected events could cover anything from the car breaking down to a spontaneous night out with friends.

I thought about this and realised it’s exactly the same as setting aside time for improvement and innovation. Your income represents your eight to 10-hour working day. As well as having time for routine work, which is equivalent to your daily living expenses, and a buffer for the unexpected, which is the same as an emergency savings fund, you need to set aside time for improvement and innovation, which is your investment in your future.
 
 
So how much time should you set aside for improvement and innovation?

The ratio for leaders should be the majority of your time. This includes setting the strategy for your company, coaching your people, and improving processes and procedures.

The remainder is devoted to standard routines and allowing for the unexpected—unforeseen or unplanned tasks. Ratios will vary depending on everyone’s role in the organisation.

I have seen many businesses, including a manager I’ve recently coached, unknowingly deprived of the time to improve because they are too busy constantly putting out fires! It’s a Catch-22!

Unexpected events are not the same as fire-fighting—it is about taking into account that sometimes things will happen that you absolutely cannot account for. It could be a positive opportunity that comes up in your day, such as needing to go and visit a potential client, or an unplanned event that requires your attention, such as an opportunity to thank and recognise an employee who did an exceptional job solving a critical problem during his night shift.

Problems shouldn’t come in unexpectedly. You can minimise the unexpected by proactively implementing improvement opportunities. This comprises the majority of the time you spend improving and innovating by taking steps such as developing new strategy of an operational process, improving people’s skills through continuous coaching, proactively assessing risks, and investigating new markets.

You should always anticipate and look for where fires might start, so that you can take action to prevent them. This applies across all areas of your business, including customer satisfaction, safety, employee engagement, breakdowns, costs and compliance.