“No, I didn’t get it yet,” Nancy said.
“Geez. How long has it been?” I asked.
“At least a week and a half,” she replied.
“Well, do you think he really wants it?” I asked. “I mean, why isn’t he sending it back?”
“If you remember from last time, it took him a while. He travels a lot and has said it’s not often he has access to a printer and scanner,” she reminded me.
We were waiting to receive a signed contract from an advertiser who had agreed to sponsor an upcoming webinar. But after almost two weeks, the contract still hadn’t returned.
While I suspected the print/scan thing may have just been a convenient way to stall (for whatever reason), I decided we should remove that variable from the equation.
“Listen,” I said to Nancy. “Let’s take that issue off the table. I just signed a new contract with Regus (for my office space) and I didn’t have to print anything out. All I had to do was type my name into a box and click on a button that said performing those steps constituted my signature. I am sure we can figure out a way to do that too. Let me do some Googling and I’ll get back to you before end of day.”
My Internet search took me to an article that mentioned two products — Adobe EchoSign and DocuSign, both of which I subsequently investigated further, finally settling on the Adobe product. Since we were just testing this out, I asked Nancy to sign up for the free version, which allows users to send up to five contracts every 30 days for a digital signature.
Within 20 minutes of me asking her to do that, she had sent the e-signable contract to the customer in question, and within 20 minutes of that, she had it back, signed on the dotted line. Remember, this is the same contract we’d been waiting two weeks for. By the sound of our voices, you’d think we split the atom.
“Why don’t we do this for all contracts going forward!” I said.
“Definitely. I sent one out the old way yesterday. I’m going to send them a version that can be e-signed today,” she said.
By the time Nancy had logged on the next morning, that contract had come back.
Now, before I go on, let me make the point that having a contract which is convenient to sign does not a business make. But offering it can make it easier to do business with your organization, and that, of course, is good for business.
The more I thought about the way we’d just evolved, the more I thought about how innovation happens — and how and why it does not happen. Certainly offering e-signable contracts would have been good for business for the past four years, not just when it became abundantly clear it was the major factor holding up a specific deal. But it was only when such was the case — only when it became a fire that had to be put out — that we did anything about it.
When innovation is the result of a fire (necessity being the mother of invention and all), that’s great, but it is not the Holy Grail, for if we wait until the smoke rises to call for water, we are likely presiding over a bubbling cauldron of inefficiency. So how to improve the processes that have yet to trip an alarm? How to innovate when things are going ok and there is so much else to do, so many actual fires to put out?
My suggestion? Such improvements require a retreat-like approach. Even if this doesn’t involve going into the woods with HR-led team-building exercises (which nothing, God willing, should), getting away from the everyday in some fashion and intentionally focusing on non-ideal workflows, processes and governance can go a long way to making you better every day.
The fires, as I said, will be taken care of, for they cannot be ignored, but addressing the smoldering issues yet to ignite requires a different approach. The benefit however, can be well worth the effort. For though it is sometimes clear what a suboptimal approach is costing, the far more dangerous situation is the just-good-enough, way-we’ve-always-done-it inertia that keep us as far from being great as it does from being terrible.