Innovate…or stagnate? Nine tips for keeping things fresh at work

There is one word we hear so often in the business world that it's nearly lost its meaning...and that's a shame, because it's one of the most important things any business owner can do. Of course, we're talking about innovation.

Headshot of Ruth Davis, general manager of SBS Digital Solutions and Business Development for ADP with Create and Cultivate Founder and CEO, Jaclyn Johnson
Author By Team Roll on August 01, 2022
Reading Time 7 min read

There is one word we hear so often in the business world that it’s nearly lost its meaning…and that’s a shame, because it’s one of the most important things any business owner can do. Of course, we’re talking about innovation.


Running a good business isn’t just about making a quality product. That’s something Ruth Davis, General Manager of Roll by ADP, recognized early in her career. Recently, she shared her thoughts on the importance of innovation (and more!) with the Work Party podcast. Here’s a rundown of Ruth’s professional story, along with some of her tips for success.


Be ready for anything, and open to everything

Ruth studied diplomatic history as an undergrad, a far cry from her role in the corporate world today. But she didn’t just jump at the first professional opportunity that arose. Ruth realized— through a number of different internships—that what she studied ultimately wasn’t work that she enjoyed, so she switched her career focus from international relations to international business. It’s a solid reminder that career paths are rarely linear…and that we should never keep doors closed.


Sometimes you have to learn things on the fly

A scholarly background is great to have, but it’s not a must-have. Just as important is figuring things out in real time, through trial and error. That’s what Ruth did, after starting work in corporate consulting. It was during the internet bubble, when Ruth was tasked with essentially creating things that didn’t previously exist (like building online companies and bringing brick-and-mortar businesses to the web). Completely new experiences like that are invaluable because they force us to become more creative thinkers…and provide lessons we could never learn in school.


Make taxes less taxing

It may seem like there are literally millions of mistakes a small business owner can make when preparing their taxes. (And as an SBO, it’s most likely your natural inclination to do them yourself, either to save a few bucks or because you think it’s what you’re supposed to). But Ruth insists that the best course of action is to hire a professional to do your taxes for you. Just as important? Make sure it’s a partner who will take responsibility and ownership, as it’s more common than not for professionals who handle payroll or files to leave potential mistakes for the business owner to handle. (Pro Tip: Evaluate all state and local requirements when starting your business. Many first time SBOs only consider federal tax implications, leading to further issues down the line.)


Hiring really is the hardest part

No matter the size of your business, recruiting employees who mesh with your team is one of the most difficult tasks out there. What makes it even harder is that it’s always changing—what it takes to hire an employee now is quite different from what it took to successfully hire an employee five or even two years ago. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, Ruth suggests keeping two things in mind: “Will over skill” and finding something you don’t already have. For the former, Ruth says you can always teach people how to do things, but you can’t teach someone how to have a better attitude or to approach their work in a different way. And the latter? Look for people who complement your team—different backgrounds, experiences, and time spent in unrelated industries all help to build a more well-rounded team, giving your business more diverse voices and a wider range of problem-solving skills.


Always. Be. Innovating.

The second you stop thinking about how a process or product can be performed or made better, someone is going to step up and do it instead. To Ruth, innovation means thinking about things differently and ignoring how something has always been done, and remembering that the status quo just won’t cut it. Proactivity always beats out reactivity. And while there’s no concrete formula for innovating, Ruth suggests starting with a blank slate and thinking about the ideal state. From there, work backwards until you’ve got a new way of doing something. And remember, even history’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs didn’t get it right the first time, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t, either. Use every attempt as a learning experience, understanding what the market is telling you and what you need to change to improve.


You gotta keep ’em motivated

Leading and managing people is always tough—and never more so than during tough times (of late: Covid, the Great Resignation, etc.). To keep a team well oiled and running smoothly, Ruth emphasizes communication and connection, especially in today’s largely remote environment. Be as transparent as possible about the decisions you make…to the point of overcommunicating. Understand your team on an individual level. Know where they’re coming from, their stories, what makes them tick. Even share your story with them so that you better understand each other and why one might approach a problem a certain way.


Success ≠ better bottom line

It’s almost a universal truth that people define success differently. To Ruth, success doesn’t amount to pitches won, improved KPIs, or anything of that nature. For her, it’s about the experiences she’s had, who she’s helped (both colleagues and customers), and the connections she’s made. It’s a much more personal, and arguably more fulfilling, way of keeping score.


New technologies mean new opportunities

It’s no secret that some of the most well-known global businesses became successful because they addressed a market inefficiency. The same can be said for small businesses on a much more local level, too. During her early days of internet commerce, Ruth learned that there’s always room for innovation, and that it’s often the most creative thinkers that find success. The key is coming up with novel ways to use new technologies. Take advantage of new tech that helps take work off your plate, because it can be the difference between success and stagnation. That’s what many solopreneurs are finding when they sign up with Roll by ADP. Newfound free time allows them to address other areas of their business beyond payroll…and more freedom to find the next inefficiency in the market.


At the end of the day, accolades don’t mean much. Success is about experience, connection, and innovation, and it’s easier to innovate with quality partners around you who are willing to take on some of the load. Apps like Clover and Roll by ADP are indispensable to small businesses—and can make your life infinitely easier. As Ruth tells us, don’t be too proud to ask for help. You’ll be amazed at how receptive others are to offer their wisdom or assistance. And take Ruth up on her advice! We think she knows what she’s doing.


Interested in learning about how Roll’s features can help your business? Explore here.

Business Basics • Small Business • Technology
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