Want to increase the odds of innovation success? Eliminate silos in your small business

Are you encountering resistance to new business initiatives at your small business? If so, you are not alone. In fact, experts believe that from 70% to 85% of all new business initiatives fail! Wow.

We all know how expensive it is to launch a new business initiative, whether a refinement of an existing process or rolling out a new product or service. Costs can include doing market studies to identify new opportunities, designing and refining new products and services as well as developing the processes and procedures needed to deliver them. Frequently this will also entail changing systems, informing/training staff and customers, and, in some cases, re-tooling machines and changing suppliers/parts. How sad if it’s all for naught.

I recently learned about an online survey by Stefan Lindegaard, an open innovation expert and client of Jeanne Yocum (this blog’s founder), to identify what’s getting in the way of success. Stefan asked people what were the most common causes of innovation failure in their organizations. He provided 13 options and the fourth highest rated answer, selected by 47.5% of respondents, was “The company operates in silos instead of taking a team approach to innovation.”

Since even small businesses have silos, what can you do to mitigate that risk in your small business? Here are a few ideas:

  • Involve everyone who will be impacted as early as possible. Think broadly about who will need to be on board. Don’t overlook your support areas – accounting, HR, customer service, and systems.
  • Communicate a clear “vision” of what you think the new initiative will bring. Talk about how it will work from end-to-end, for example, for a new product or market, from prospecting at the front end to accounting for the sale at the back end. Listen to concerns that line staff have. Remember, they’re interfacing with your customers every day and have first-hand knowledge of what customers want and how to provide it.
  • Jointly create an implementation plan. New business initiatives mean more work. It’s just a fact. How will that work be incorporated in to the day-to-day? Will there additional staff hired? Will some efforts be discontinued? If you are assigning someone to take a significant role in the new initiative, who will take over her current duties? What’s the training plan to get everyone up to speed?
  • Inform your entire staff about the exciting new initiative before your go public. Get them ready for customer questions. You may also want to speak to key current customers to let them know.
  • What benchmarks will you track to make sure the initiative is on plan? Be realistic about sales projections. Factor in the time to get the word out to customers, lead time in making the sale, and customers’ reticence to try something new (read “unproven”). Measure call volume in customer service areas – is your staffing adequate? How are customers reacting to the new initiative?
  • Make it clear how you will inform the diverse team you have brought together of progress. How often will you meet to talk about what’s happening and how it can be improved? How will you work to solve the unexpected issues that come up?
  • Involve everyone in celebrating success. If it’s truly a team effort, recognize the whole team! Too often only a few “stars” get the limelight. If you want your employees to look forward to implementing the next bright idea, they have to feel good about having their efforts noticed for the last one you did.

Improved internal understanding and communication can help boost efficiency in all aspects of your business. Consider whether lessons learned in implementing new initiatives can be a model for communication across your organization.

Innovation, while difficult, is the key to long-term success. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back.


Since 1991, Laurie Breitner has assisted organizations with operational improvement, organizational development and strategic planning. Learn more at http://www.lauriebreitner.com.

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