Five Obstacles That Impede Startup Innovation

Opinion

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actively embody values such as risk-taking, trust, respect, transparency, and teamwork, the rest of the organization will follow suit.

At MetricStream, innovation is one of our core cultural tenets, and it’s actively supported and carried out across our other cultural tenets including Customer Focus (everything we do needs to create value for our customers), Team Work (if we work together as a team, we can achieve big results), and Never Say Die (tenacity and perseverance make all the difference in the world). These values guide the work we do everyday, they unite as one team, and support us as we continue to adapt, evolve, improve, and grow.

Rigid Operating Structure

Innovation is often hampered in organizations with complex or hierarchical models that promote micromanagement and a “command and control” style of leadership. Fortunately, most startups are flat and agile. But the trick is to maintain the same structure, especially as the business scales.

One of the best ways to do that is to keep communication lines open. Listen to people. When someone suggests a new idea, discuss how it could work. Try to say “yes” more often. Provide ample opportunities for feedback and improvement – both top-down and bottom-up.

Early on in MetricStream’s history, one of our teams had the idea of creating an on-demand learning portal to meet the growing need for GRC (Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance) training, content, and thought leadership. This innovation is ComplianceOnline.com, which today is a leading provider of GRC training and advisory services. The portal connects over 700 GRC consultants with 3 million plus users worldwide, while hosting over 700 seminars every year, and housing a library of 1,700 on-demand GRC training programs.

None of this would have been possible if we, as an organization, hadn’t listened and encouraged people to share, and act on their ideas.

Lack of Good Leadership

You can spot good leaders just by watching how they interact with others. They inspire people to do better and be better. They rally the workforce around a shared vision. In a chaotic startup environment where you’re working against the odds every single day to succeed, a good leader can make all the difference.

Many of the most successful tech startups today are synonymous with their leaders – be it Ben Silbermann (Pinterest), Drew Houston (Dropbox), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), or Evan Spiegel (Snapchat). It’s no surprise that these individuals also received approval ratings of more than 90 percent from employees, in a 2014 report compiled by Business Insider, based on CEO ratings from Glassdoor.

There are many traits that make up a good startup leader. But in my experience, I’ve found that truly transformational leaders are those who motivate people, earn their trust, and raise the company’s morale not only with what they say, but also what they do. They set clear goals, envision the road ahead, and steer the team forward. They are also passionate about their work, and courageous in taking new risks.

Conclusion

The concept of innovation is often illustrated as a light bulb that suddenly switches on when an idea strikes. But in reality, innovation doesn’t just happen in a moment. It requires continuous and deliberate focus. The key to success lies in taking smart risks, fostering a culture that encourages creativity, and removing obstacles such as complex internal reporting structures and bureaucracy. Also, implement systems and processes that help govern innovation. And most importantly, make sure that you have strong leaders across the organization who help inspire innovation and drive success across the organization.

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Shellye Archambeau is CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto, CA-based company offering governance, risk, compliance, and quality management solutions to enterprises in the pharmaceutical, medical device, high tech manufacturing, energy, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, food and beverage, and automotive industries. Follow @metricstream

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