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Why Caribbean firms should tighten their shoelaces – not just their belts

Blueprint-Creative-TIghten-Shoelaces-1 Blueprint-Creative-Tighten-Shoelaces-2-300x201From BluePrint Creative

Two hikers were making their way through the forest when they encountered a massive bear in their path. The first hiker immediately bent down and started tightening his shoelaces, obviously intent on making a run for it. The second hiker looked at him incredulously and yelled “What the hell are you doing? You can’t possibly outrun a bear!” The first hiker took off on a brisk sprint and called out over his shoulder, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”

Okay, so this story of the bear and the two hikers isn’t exactly a perfect analogy for life in the Caribbean (after all, when was the last time anyone saw a bear anywhere in the region?), but it is certainly food for thought when one considers that Caribbean enterprises are still facing a global economy which, like the bear in the story, threatens to tear businesses limb from limb.

In recent years, many businesses have been forced to slash budgets in an attempt to cut costs and remain competitive. Business leaders, employees and observers have all contributed to an orchestra of voices reinforcing the need for Caribbean enterprises to “tighten our belts” and reduce costs – and with good reason! The persistently challenging economy means that businesses can ill afford to waste a single dollar. However, is tightening our belts enough to be competitive on the global market?

The point of the semi-humorous, semi-morbid story of the bear and the hikers is that sometimes, you don’t have to outrun the entire economy. You just have to tighten your shoelaces, take off on a brisk sprint and out-survive the guy next to you. And philosophically, tightening our shoelaces is somewhat different from tightening our belts.

Belt-Tightening vs. Shoelace-Tightening

As best-selling author John Spence notes, we live in an era of rapid innovation, and to be successful, a company’s rate of internal innovation must exceed the external rate of innovation. Even if a business cuts costs but its rate of innovation does not at least match the rate of innovation of its industry, that business will automatically fall behind. In other words, Caribbean businesses seeking to compete in the global economy simply cannot cost-cut their way to profitability – not when their global competitors are hard at work innovating.

For businesspeople trying to remain competitive, both belt-tightening activities and shoelace-tightening activities may very well be necessary, but for truly innovative companies, the former set of activities cannot replace the latter. When most businesspeople speak of tightening their belts, more often than not, they’re speaking solely of cost-cutting measures. Using our intrepid first hiker as a reference point, shoe-tightening refers to taking a look at our operations and taking innovative measures to be more efficient.

Shoelace-tightening may come in many forms. Some businesses may innovate by coming up with new and exciting products. Others may look inward and streamline their processes in order to find more efficient ways of making their products. And others may come up with better ways to market their products and communicate their products’ benefits to potential customers. The options for tightening your shoelaces are virtually endless.

Thinking of engaging in a shoelace-tightening strategy? Here are a few points to consider.

1. The call to innovate must be championed at the highest levels of leadership.

If an organisation is to develop a true culture of innovation, the leadership must send a strong, uncompromising signal to all team members that workplace innovation is absolutely critical to the organisation’s ability to survive. CEOs and their management teams must champion the cause and be genuinely committed to developing a culture where innovation is encouraged and rewarded. There are countless books on leadership available. One of my favourites is Great by Choice by Jim Collins. It’s a very good read.

2. When it comes to innovation, the organisation needs all hands on deck

While it is the responsibility of the leadership to champion the call to innovate, to maintain high levels of improvement, an organisation needs every single employee actively figuring out how to make the company more competitive. All team members, including senior management, front-line staff and even the most junior entry level employees will need to contribute to the company’s innovation strategy. And this isn’t going to happen by chance. If you’re interested in understanding more about what motivates employees, check out Daniel Pink’s book, appropriately called Drive.

3. You probably shouldn’t leave innovation to chance

Some companies such as 3M and Google have structured programmes which allow employees to spend a certain percentage of their time working on their own projects. This strategy, sometimes known as Innovation Time Off (or ITO) is responsible for 3M products such as the Post-It Note, and for Google products such as Gmail and Google Earth. It’s worth noting that organisational culture heavily impacts structured innovation programmes like those found at 3M or Google, and that this strategy may not be right for every company. If you’d like to know more about the pros and cons of ITO, click here to read a pretty interesting article on the topic.

4. Shoelace-tightening can come in many forms

There are so many ways your company can tighten its shoelaces. Be sure to look at every single area of your business and find ways to improve your operations.

5. Celebrate innovations of all sizes

Companies should resist the temptation to only celebrate huge, ground-breaking innovations. When small innovations are also celebrated, employees will get a clear signal that the company is serious about developing a culture of improvement.

6. Seek out examples, benchmarks and other forms of inspiration

Examples and benchmarks can be a great way to inspire your team members towards making improvements in their own jobs. Be sure to benchmark notable innovations from companies within your industry and from companies outside of your industry. Share these examples with your team and encourage them to come up with ways to be more innovative.

7. Your company culture is important

Don’t expect your employees to be overjoyed about being innovative if your culture is divisive, disrespectful or distasteful. If you are really serious about tightening your business’ shoelaces, you have to develop a culture where the interests of employees are aligned with the interests of the company, and team members are excited about helping the company to grow.

Hi. We enjoyed writing this article. If you enjoyed reading it, please feel free to “like” it, “share” it with your LinkedIn contacts, or comment below. Oh wait, we almost forgot. Please note that the story of the bear and the hikers is for analogy purposes only and is not intended to provide guidance on actual bear encounters. No bears (or hikers for that matter) were hurt during the research and writing of this article. For information on how to avoid a real bear encounter, please click link below. For more information on Blueprint Creative, please click link below to visit our website or click link below to follow our LinkedIn Company Page. If you’re thinking of engaging in a shoelace-tightening strategy and you need direction on how to develop a winning company culture that supports your strategy, please feel free to reach out to us.



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