We look at ways businesses large and small can drive innovation to grow and flourish.
It might sound cynical, but we’re living at a time when even ordering a hamburger in a restaurant has to be powered by innovation. Our ‘always-on’ working world positively demands novelty and new approaches to market success at every turn.
Whether it’s constantly being asked to connect all the time, there’s an expectation for all of us to respond and react to the latest thought or idea straight away. It’s fuelling our culture of outrage across social media and it’s making us less considered in our approach to life.
Dare you leave a text message for another day before your friends all think you’ve keeled over or befallen a terrible fate? Exactly. As such, connectivity is also demanding more than ever from businesses.
There’s also an expectation by customers that a business must be reactive and innovative and it’s this very belief that’s driving business growth across the board. These demands might be complex and they’re certainly exhausting.
Businesses need to keep up.
Yet it’s also an exciting time, and the pursuit of innovation can take your organisation to new places if you let it. So, where should you go to look for new ideas to drive business growth?
We look at five areas that are up for grabs for forward-thinking businesses:
1. ASK WHAT WOULD ELON DO?
To truly drive innovation within your company, you could do worse than to ask what the world’s most celebrated entrepreneur alive today would do. Entrepreneurs have a lot to teach us about embracing innovation.
For anyone that isn’t as obsessed with flying cars and Mars as us, Elon Musk is founder and manager of companies that specialise in electric and self-driving cars, space exploration, Mars colonisation and other run of the mill sectors. In fact, it’s a strong claim, but we doubt there’s anyone alive who can’t learn from the way Musk approaches innovation. For businesses though, there are important lessons.
Unsurprisingly, creativity is key. Whether you’re selling cars, mechanical levers or accountancy exams, every establishment needs to think creatively to drive results. We’re not just talking board rooms and blue sky thinking either. Don’t run and hide just yet.
It’s creativity that drives success.
Mark Rhodes, Director of Marketing at recruitment firm Reed, says: “All employers stand to gain by promoting creativity at work. The most successful businesses are those that engender creative thinking and develop environments where everyone generates ideas, has a voice, asks questions and challenges the norm.”
It’s creativity that enables entrepreneurs like Musk to bring new ideas to the marketplace. Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate’ study shows that it’s also a driving force behind employee engagement.
- Think about how you can establish the kind of atmosphere where creativity is welcomed.
- Do your people feel like they can put their hand up and offer up ideas in a safe and empowering way? Or are they scared to say the wrong thing?
- Do you have an open work culture with break out spaces to encourage ideas to flourish? Do you hide behind email or encourage staff interaction?
2. COLLABORATE TO INNOVATE
When you work together, you work for the better. Your people won’t be engaged if they feel inhibited by managers. A lack of alignment within a team can really affect results. Managers need to encourage employees to work together in closer knit-teams to stimulate collaboration and idea generation.
Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate’ study says that 97% of employees and executives believe a lack of alignment within a team directly impacts the outcome of a task or projects. Smaller micro-communities can help larger organisations to get more from their staff.
Sodexo UK’s Director of Employee Benefits, James Malia, says, “As long as individuals are aware of the world outside of their team in the broader business, their role within it and the impact they are having, they should be given the freedom to bounce off each other. We need to enable creativity and autonomy within smaller teams if we want to nurture their engagement.” Got that? Be bouncy and the rest will follow.
It’s this agile way of working that often comes more naturally to SMEs and start-ups – hence why they are seen as innovators more readily than giant corporates. Large companies may have big bucks to spend to develop new products, but they regularly come up against roadblocks when it comes to creative thinking and innovation.
Elon Musk is on board with this too, so it must be true, right? He says, “The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren’t that smart, who aren’t that creative.” Wise words for HR Managers everywhere.
Large companies that are aware of their limitations can learn to introduce collaborative work approaches to lead innovation.
- When interviewing, think, would this person fit into that team well?
- Ask, is there a climate of trust? Have you established a positive workplace culture?
- Encourage everyone to listen to each other to create good working practices.
- Work together and encourage staff contributions in a positive way.
3. BE OPEN TO RISK
To get great business results, you need to encourage an atmosphere where people aren’t afraid to run with new ideas. Managers need to help employees to feel comfortable and ready to share. Good ideas should be recognised but equally, ones that don’t get off the ground should be applauded as something to learn from for the future.
Professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Exeter, John Bessant, says that learning from failure is crucial to business success.
Successful co-working start-up WeWork was built on failure. Its founders had already tried to launch two other businesses before striking gold with their co-working platform. The previous two included collapsible women’s heels, and Krawlers, the baby clothes with knee pads. It just goes to show, that innovation can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You just might not recognise where the business success stories lie until you try.
All too often, businesses are insular in their approach to exploring innovation. This leads to a form of innovation that becomes doing what they do better, rather than broadening out into something exciting and new.
As James Malia explains, “If everyone sits there feeling a bit timid – scared to stick their head above the pulpit – you’re never going to get anywhere. Your employees and their ideas are just as important as anyone else’s in the business. Remove that sense of impending doom.” We’re all human, after all. To ignore this, is to defeat what you’re setting out to achieve, before you’ve begun.
- Is mistake-making a part of your culture? Do your employees know what to do to correct mistakes quickly or do you encourage employees to hide them?
- How do you invite feedback from staff? Do you welcome it at any time via feedback platforms or suggestion boxes?
- Do you recognise employee achievements with incentives and rewards?
4. BE MORE GOOGLE: EMPOWER YOUR PEOPLE
We all know the saying that a company is only as good as its employees. Their wellbeing and happiness is crucial to establishing employee engagement. Once you get that right, you can really begin to stimulate innovative thinking.
Just look at Google: it’s living proof that walking the talk really works. Their ‘20% time’ initiative, guarantees that employees can spend one-fifth of their time working on their own projects. It empowers them to become innovative thinkers and more focused in their roles – and it’s one of a series of novel ideas that has propelled the company to the top of the ‘best companies to work’ for lists.
Elon Musk says, “People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important to look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.” You can imagine how this winning attitude has played a part in the fabric of Musk’s business success stories. Just saying.
If you empower employees, you can improve employee retention. And employee happiness and wellbeing is key to driving people engagement and therefore, business innovation.
- Find ways to show you trust your employees and they will respond.
- Does your workplace offer opportunities for staff to grow and learn?
- Do you encourage presenteeism? If flexible working is a bad word in your company, you might need a re-think.
5. ADD A LARGE DOSE OF INSPIRATION
Employees expect a lot of things from their employers, but if you can surprise and delight them in unexpected ways, you can drive emotion. Unique employee benefits and personalised rewards have the power to position an organisation as a desirable and thoughtful employer. If you give employees something positive to talk about, they will react.
James Malia, Sodexo UK’s Director of Employee Benefits, says that “What you’re trying to do is offer something that benefits every single one of your staff. Tailor your initiatives to the idiosyncrasies of your workplace, and make it so the people who work within your organisation are the envy of everybody.”
On that note, thoughtful employee benefits can give employees the head space they need to drive productivity and, in turn, business innovation.
For example, when an international licensing agency realised that its employees were struggling to get home through heavy traffic on Friday nights, they decided to implement a 3pm leaving policy. It meant staff could avoid the stress of rush hour and get home to loved ones that bit faster. A nice touch and one that probably didn’t cost much to implement.
It’s these kinds of thoughtful and personal touches that can help improve talent retention and lead to greater workplace engagement. Other options could include offering a cycle to work scheme or a car to work scheme to help cut commuter stress. If you focus on employee health and wellbeing, you’ll begin to see results in the workplace.
- Do you think outside the box and give employees something positive to talk about?
- Do you offer relevant benefits and rewards to match your employees’ lifestyles and personal interests?
- Are your employees likely to recommend your company to others as being a good place to work?
Go on, bring out the passion and energy of your employees today. Light a spark and set off a chain reaction. Who knows, together you could create something really brilliant for your company.