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Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada.
Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Five ways to foster a culture of experimentation Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

“Experimentation” has become a buzzword for managers and business owners. Everyone wants their employees to think outside the box, develop creative ideas and be innovative. However, few organizations actually take the steps necessary to make that happen.

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Fostering a culture of experimentation delivers some big advantages:

You make better decisions. Experimentation allows you to base decisions on real results – not mere theory.

You get more out of your employees. Instead of hierarchy and layers of approvals, you can enable everyone – including junior staff – to test their best ideas.

You get surprised. The more you experiment, the more likely you’ll get a result you weren’t expecting. That’s the market speaking to you, telling you something you didn’t know.

Here are five best practices for establishing a culture of experimentation that can help your business.

1. Define your culture

Take the time to define where experimentation fits within your company’s culture, and then put it in writing. Once you’ve reached a collective agreement, work to incorporate this vision into each aspect of your company’s business.

For instance, at Intuit we’ve established “innovate and improve” as one of our core values. We’ve specifically identified the fact that we expect our employees to continuously innovate and improve, and we’ve also committed to providing them with the tools and resources they need to do it.

2. Act like a startup

Create opportunities for your organization to act like a startup – it doesn’t matter how large or small your number of staff, or how long you’ve been in business. Challenge your employees to generate new ideas and solutions related to organizational challenges – for example, sales strategy and product development.

We have 8,000 employees, yet we put key product decisions in the hands of small teams – we like to say that these teams need to be small enough for two large pizzas to feed. This allows us to be fast and nimble so that we can consistently challenge our status quo and generate new ideas.

3. Allow every employee to be an entrepreneur

Create opportunities for every employee to ask questions and present ideas for experimentation. Hierarchy should not determine who has the opportunity to pursue new discoveries or ideas. Instead, decisions should be made by employees with the most creative insights or those who are closest to the customers.

Our employees spend up to 10 per cent of their time on “unstructured time” projects. This provides them with a licence to spend time and energy on things they are passionate about, and it gives the company new and often unforeseen opportunities to drive growth.

4. Practise low-cost experiments

Experiments do not have to be grandiose, nor do they have to take weeks to develop. In fact, low cost experiments are a better use of company resources because they allow a company to get feedback before spending a large amount of time and money on a project.

5. Measure insights and showcase success

Successful innovation is all about making decisions based on data-driven insights gained from experimentation and trials. More often than not, your initial hypotheses will prove to be wrong – and this is a good thing. The trick is to savour the surprises and use that data to pivot and improve your product or service.

The end result is more engaged employees, more delighted customers, and more business success.

Jeff Cates is the president and CEO of Intuit Canada (@QuickBooksCA), a provider of business and accounting software.

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