Welcome to Leader Talk! In episode 3, we had the opportunity to sit down with Justin Burgess, Executive General Manager of Laminex Australia.
With specialties in leading sales and profit turnarounds, building and developing successful teams and identifying growing market segments, Justin’s advice for small to medium-sized businesses is unrivalled.
In our chat, Justin shares his restless desire to make things better by explaining the importance of innovation, why company culture beats strategy every time, how to recruit the right employees and why small businesses should focus on one business model.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Justin Burgess on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Justin Burgess. Executive General Manager, Laminex Australia.
Innovation should be at the heart of every business. There’s no way around it. It’s your job as a leader to constantly strive for new and innovative ideas, create an environment where creativity can flourish and encourage out-of-the-box thinking. Big or small, one employee or no employees, innovation is how your business will expand and thrive. But this can be a daunting prospect for small to medium-sized business owners. Often, it’s tempting to continue using the same business model and avoid the risks that come with change.
As the Executive General Manager for Laminex Australia, I oversee over 1,400 employees. It’s my job to ensure I embody excellent leadership qualities that empower my team to achieve ambitious goals. I’ve learnt that leadership is not about how many people you manage, but how you manage those people. By encouraging vulnerability and resilience, good leadership creates a work culture that allows innovation to flourish.
So, just how important is innovation for businesses and how can you become a leader that encourages creativity in every aspect of your business’s practices?
Lead by example
Leading a business shouldn’t be an overly complicated process. It should be rooted in passion, vulnerability, and resilience. These are the three values that create a strong foundation for businesses of every size to succeed.
Last year, when COVID-19 first started, I learnt about how important vulnerability is for a leader. With no understanding of what was occurring or what was going to happen, it was easy to make mistakes, even when you tried everything in your power not to. However, by sharing my vulnerability and by demonstrating that I cared about our business, and everyone involved in it, I managed to bring my employees closer.
You see, vulnerability doesn’t equal weakness. Vulnerability shows strength and it allows you to empower others. Vulnerability facilitates trust and honesty. It ensures that open communication and collaboration flourish, allowing innovation to prosper. Nobody is going to come up with great ideas in a company that stifles individual voices. But if you foster a work environment that encourages honesty and fresh ideas, your team will not be afraid to make meaningful decisions and learn from their mistakes.
This leads me to the importance of resilience. Resilience isn’t simply about putting your head down and working through tough times. It’s also the process of learning from your mistakes, telling others when you’re not okay, and not feeling afraid to ask for help. A resilient leader is anything but heartless. A resilient leader is not afraid to make mistakes and seek new ideas.
Resilience is at the heart of innovation because not every idea will be a good one. Innovation requires us to learn from what went wrong. This knowledge should inform our future decisions rather than teach us to never try something again. If you’re a small or medium-sized business owner, resilience must be at the core of your everyday practices. Otherwise, you’ll be doomed to make the same mistakes and you might be overtaken by larger companies. The quicker you learn to adapt, the more success you’ll gain in the long term.
These ideas apply whether you’re a large company with thousands of employees or a small company with no employees. Passion, resilience, and vulnerability are leadership qualities that extend to every person you interact with. Whether that person is a customer looking to purchase your product or service, or a new employee learning how your business operates. How you present yourself and your business is key to your success.
Create a culture of innovation
A great company culture beats strategy every day of the week. Nobody can thrive in a company whose culture is centred on profits over employee comfort, competition over collaboration or KPI’s over team wellbeing. This applies even if you have no employees – how you treat yourself and what you place value in will define how your business operates holistically. In business, you want people to be curious and have a strong desire to gain more insights into just about everything. Innovation doesn’t come from thinking that everything your business does is already perfect. Innovation is a by-product of curiosity.
To create this culture of curiosity and build a foundation of innovation, small and medium-sized business owners should recruit team members that not only align with their company culture but also have an innate curiosity about things. You want to promote insight that leads to innovation. While I wish recruiting the perfect team of employees was an easy task, in my experience it’s not always the smoothest process. However, one step that can make it easier is establishing your business model.
Three business models are at the core of every single company: product leadership, operating excellence, and customer intimacy. While each business will have some aspect of each as part of their overall strategy, the successful ones will focus on one of them.
Once you understand your business model and align your business practices with it, selecting employees becomes easier. Creating a company culture that resonates with your business model will also allow innovation to flourish. If your business focuses more on customer intimacy, then innovative ideas will be centred around solving customer problems. If your business is focused on product leadership, then innovative ideas will be focused on creating new and highly advanced products. If your business is focused on operating excellence, then innovation will take the form of improving business operations and practices. Understanding your business model not only strengthens your company culture but also enables innovative thinking to thrive.
Kill your business or someone else will do it first
Innovation can sometimes feel like an afterthought for small to medium-sized businesses. After responding to emails, paying invoices, and keeping your business running efficiently, it may seem like there’s no time to think about how you could improve or advance your business. But this is a dangerous mindset. Simply put, if you’re not constantly thinking of ways your business could fail then you’ll have no way of preventing this from happening.
Businesses operate in a competitive market, meaning at every level, whether you’re a small business or a multinational conglomerate, your competition is thinking of ways to gain the upper hand. This is why innovation is the key to success. By striving to innovate your business practices, customer relationships or products, you are ensuring that nobody else can overtake you.
Now, I don’t want this to seem like you must constantly create the newest technology or transform your business practices every week. Innovation can be in the simple things – it doesn’t have to be overly time consuming or expensive. The last time I was in the United States, I came across two local businesses. Both were thriving despite the emergence of large national corporations simply because they had created cost-effective, intelligent, and innovative solutions. One of them was a small independent supermarket. What the owner did was ask everyone that shopped at the larger supermarket to show him their receipt. From implementing this simple request, he found out exactly what people were buying and began stocking these products in his supermarket, effectively diverting customers from the large national store to his own. Without spending any money, he was able to collate important data that enabled him to compete with the other supermarkets in his town.
Another was a small, local hardware store. As you can imagine, he was competing with massive businesses that were established across the United States. However, to gain an upper hand and effectively compete, he offered customers a ten-dollar discount if they delivered products to other customers, whose addresses were on their way home. The hardware store owner capitalised on both his town’s desire to shop local and his town’s interconnected nature. Without losing much profit, he found a way to offer a delivery service that also encouraged customers to return as they received a discount. How’s that for innovative thinking!
The point of these examples is to highlight that innovation takes many forms. You don’t have to invent time travel to be an innovative business. Instead, you simply have to look at what your business’s everyday practices are and see where small improvements can be made.
Being a leader and owning a business, large or small, is all about chasing after the next innovative idea. It’s important to never be satisfied with your business practices and products. Instead, you should constantly strive to seek out areas for improvement. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t feel proud and reflect on your work, it’s to remind you that stagnation leads businesses to failure.
Being a small to medium-sized business owner is all about evolving and ensuring that you’re looking for what will be the next big thing for you and your customers. Fostering a culture of curiosity, recognising your business model, and building an inquisitive team that aligns with your values is what allows creativity to prosper. Create a commitment to life-long innovation and see how your business prospers. Take it from me, innovation can only lead to greater success.