If you struggle to innovate products and services, you may need to reinvent your management processes first.

In business, most people think of innovation as a process of coming up with new products and services that add value to customers in new and different ways. That’s one definition, but not the only one. In fact, it may not even be the most important one.

These days, if you’re not reinventing your management processes you could be putting your business at risk of falling too far behind to catch up. I’m not referring to management innovation from a structural standpoint. Today’s organizations absolutely need to eliminate the traditional management hierarchy and move to small, flexible teams that enable quick responses to sudden market upheavals. And we need to address the process side of management as well. Specifically, we need to reinvent how we gather and analyze information, how we make decisions, and how we think about our customers and our markets.

Broaden Your Horizons

Typically, management looks primarily at industry information. Who are our competitors? What are they doing that we need to pay attention to? What changes are happening in our industry? This is important information. And consider that, in today’s world, the competitor that puts us out of business can easily come from outside our industry.

To avoid getting blindsided by a stealth competitor, stop looking only at information that aligns with your view of the world. Get in the habit of seeking out information beyond your normal boundaries. Subscribe to blogs, e-zines and trade journals that have nothing to do with your business or industry. Visit web sites and watch news programs with different political views than yours. Deliberately seek out information that contradicts your prevailing point of view.

Constantly review how you seek out new data.  Ask: What sources of information beyond the walls of our industry do we regularly scan? Who is looking at these sources and how often? What are we learning from this outside information? How do we pass on this information to others in the organization?

Review Your Decision-Making Processes in Real Time

Most companies wait until after making a major decision or launching a new product to analyze their decision-making progress. Instead, review your strategic decisions in real time by making your thinking processes visible to others.

Before making a major decision, expose your thinking process to your team. “Here’s what I’m thinking about this issue and here’s why. Does anyone see it differently?” Then ask team members to do the same. When you identify the assumptions behind your thinking, you’ll be amazed at how people can see the same data and come up with very different conclusions.

Review your team’s process for reaching the decision by asking questions like:

  • Did we thoroughly consider the issue or did we rush to consensus?
  • Did anyone (i.e. the CEO or team leader) unduly influence the decision?
  • Did we encourage alternative points or shut them down without discussion?
  • Is there more than one “right” answer to this problem?
  • What have we overlooked in our discussion?

Constantly Challenge Your “Thought Bubbles”

Thought bubbles are the mostly unconscious assumptions, beliefs and perspectives we have about our customers, our industry and the world at large. They typically go unchallenged because we “know them to be true.” In other words, we’ve held onto them for so long that nobody dares challenge them. The problem is most of our assumptions stopped “being that way” a long time ago. Unless we examine them on a regular basis, we end up making strategic decisions based on a world that may no longer exist.

To reinvent your management process to fit today’s markets, ask:

  • What has changed with our customers, our markets, and our industry within the past six months to a year?
  • What assumptions are we continuing to make simply because we know them to be true?
  • When was the last time this organization did something that went completely against the status quo?

Enlist non-experts to evaluate your fundamental truths. For example, have your CFO look at customer data. Have your sales manager look at purchasing practices. Or have your marketing VP look at operations.

To gain a sustainable competitive advantage, become more self-aware of what you do as a leader and how you do it – and then continually improve that process. When this becomes a habit rather than a once-a-year practice, you’ll find it much easier to innovate your products and services.