Innovation Diversity

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What is innovation? Peter Drucker’s definition of innovation was “change that creates a new dimension of performance” (Source: Wikipedia). Another definition that I found was “the successful exploitation of new ideas” (Source: Wikipedia).

Innovation is usually linked with technology or certain types of companies. But when was the last time that you saw diversity linked with real, measurable results of innovation? Of course workforce diversity advocates would trumpet the fact that a diverse population of employees will spawn innovative ideas that can improve a company’s performance. I would challenge them to provide hard evidence of this. Like Joe Friday from Police Squad, “The facts, Mr. and Ms. Diversity Professional, just the facts.”

Although it may be hard to substantiate the impact in some areas of diversity, Supplier Diversity has an incredible opportunity to innovate with measurable results (see Supplier Diversity Innovations). However a change in thinking must happen with Supplier Diversity professionals. They must begin to see their roles differently. They must start to view themselves as value-added innovators versus merely compliance facilitators.

Technology does not have the patent on innovation. In fact, Doblin, Inc. has defined 10 types of innovation, divided into 4 categories (click here to view the entire list). At least 5 of the 10 specific types stood out in my mind as prime candidates for Supplier Diversity innovation, including:

  • Networks and Alliances – Diverse suppliers must be much more willing and proactive in creating strategic relationships with one another that allow them to expand their capacity and increase their capabilities to provide competitively priced, high quality goods and services to corporations. Supplier Diversity plays a key role in helping to create environments that encourage and promote these types of relationships (see Leveraging Strategic Relationships).

  • Enabling Processes - Supplier Diversity must do a better job of aligning itself with the company’s overall strategic initiatives by thinking beyond just diversity spend goals. They need to refocus on developing innovative solutions for using diverse suppliers that help the company successfully differentiate itself and execute its strategy in the marketplace.

  • Core processes - Minority suppliers can add value to a company’s supply chain by helping to lower costs, improve quality, and make key processes more efficient. This should be the focus of every Supplier Diversity professional.

  • Product Performance – Minority supplier input during the design of products and services could not only help to lower costs during the production process, but could also provide valuable insights to specific segments of a company’s target market, resulting in increased revenue opportunities.

  • Channel – Successful minority suppliers could be utilized strategically by corporations as key spokespeople, especially in specific customer markets that the corporation may be targeting. Positive feedback from satisfied suppliers who have strong reputations in their communities could have a very positive influence on the choices made by consumers in those communities.

I could have included ideas for the other 5 types of innovation also. The point is that Supplier Diversity innovation is definitely possible, but it won’t happen on its own. It must be intentional. An environment must be created that invites critiquing, collaboration, and creativity by those who are stakeholders in your organization’s mission.

Based on some interesting insights offered by the Fast Company Resource Center, here are some suggestions for kick-starting innovation within your Supplier Diversity organization:

  1. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Make sure it's a top priority for everyone on your team.
  2. Utilize a Supplier Diversity suggestion box, but make it virtual and transparent.
  3. Don't just ask for ideas, clearly formulate the problem, and then ask for solutions from different stakeholders inside and outside of the company.
  4. Seek out and attract creative enthusiasts and supporters of your Supplier Diversity vision and collaborate with them.
  5. Create an internal customer-supplier roundtable that focuses on problem solving and concept development.

If Supplier Diversity wants to be considered as a strategic function, it must become more innovative. Organizations that don’t innovate in one or more ways to adapt to their environment will not grow, and therefore will eventually die. Supplier Diversity is too important to too many stakeholders to allow it to die.

Be proactive and creative and do something innovative to build momentum and keep the progress of community empowerment through small business development moving forward.

Empowering You for Success,
Paul Wilson

Tags: business, entrepreneur, innovation, empowerment, minority business development

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