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5 Tips To Drive Innovation In Your Business

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Every company is after successful innovation, the golden ticket among SMEs and start-ups. Unfortunately, the business sector is driven by returns, forcing companies into a more defensive position when it comes to innovation. Not every idea will be the next ‘Big Thing’ but creating a culture of innovation at all levels in your company will increase your chances of coming across it. As Ireland enters an era of innovation, becoming a front-runner for R&D, it’s time to focus on moving forward. Research Technology Management estimates roughly 3000 raw ideas equal one commercially successful one. So, how can you maximise innovation in your business?

1 – Establish a positive work environment

This may be the most important step in ensuring an innovative approach to business. Giving employees room to make suggestions is a cornerstone of this process. Employees must feel at ease with managers in order to offer their ideas, as well as having the formalised space to do so. If employees are fearing for their job security in suggesting something out-of-the-box, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the workplace culture. Positive feedback, even for ideas which are not at all viable, will create an encouraging environment for employees.

Providing a space to propose ideas is a major part of the Google philosophy; they’re well known for their 70/20/10 method, in which 70% of time is spent on core business, 20% on related business and 10% on unrelated work. The goal is to transform some projects from the 10% of time into projects which are part of the 70% of time. However, losing 30% of time may not be practical for SMEs so businesses like Irish law firm ByrneWallace have another solution, using a message board on their intranet for employees to offer suggestions.

2 – Encourage communication

Following on from the first point, creating opportunities for the exchange of ideas will improve both the quantity and quality of the innovative ideas in your business. A focus on diversity is integral to this, as different backgrounds, reflecting the diverse landscape of the customers, will lead to better conversations around innovation.

Vodafone took the lead in redesigning their Dublin headquarters in order to increase idea flow; they got rid of assigned desks, allowing employees to sit where they like, and created central zones dedicated to relaxation. Accenture Ireland formed the Festival of Ideas, which brought together 1,400 employees to brainstorm. Smaller companies may find inspiration in Google, who hold weekly TGIF meetings, led by their creators, to provide an overview of projects, making sure that no employee lives in a vacuum, or with the idea of ‘Innovation days’, giving importance to time spent on idea-making.

3 – Incentivise employees

Giving employees something tangible to work towards will encourage confidence. Ideas which employees may have kept quiet about will start to show as they recognise the worth of their propositions. Incentives can range from monetary to more creative motivations. The biggest incentive, of course, is evidence of the implementation of these ideas. Innovation is not just about creating infinite ideas, but also using them. If employees see their ideas gaining traction, there will be an increase in trust in your company, as employees are recognised.

Vodafone offers employees the chance to head up their proposed projects if they are pursued, giving employees a sense of pride in their offering. Intel has internal “Academy Awards” which offer prizes to innovative employees. Incentives could also be office-based, like more flexible working hours or an extra vacation day. Providing recognition for employees and a better working environment which values their input will allow for more creativity.

4 – Listen to feedback

Innovation comprises the entire process of bringing a new idea to fruition. Thus, listening to employee feedback, not only on what could work but on what doesn’t, will prove invaluable to the development of a project. This also applies to customer input. To truly innovate, there must be room for suggestions to be heard and worked on.

Much like the first point, providing space for suggestions is at the heart of innovation. Understanding the reaction to projects requires a formalised area for this, whether it be an online survey for customers or a chat with employees. These are the people dealing with the projects most often. Taking a leaf from Google’s book again, their creation of Gmail came from their understanding of what was missing from web-based email services and dedication to improvement. Now, it’s the #1 email service.

5 – Hire the right people

An innovative culture will beat an innovative strategy every time. If your employees are creative people, with the right motivations and passions, you will find it much easier to cultivate this mindset than through teaching. Your employees need to be capable, but also creative and driven, looking to improve and sharing the ethos of the company. However, divergence in opinion is also to be desired.

Google’s process for hiring is more thorough than most, with a panel of four on the first interview, a rigorous process which inspects your know-how and your personality, and a final hiring committee decision. Though this may be a little much for a start-up, making sure that employees not only understand their job but also the vision of the company is vital to ensuring an innovative philosophy.

Final Thoughts

The suggestions laid out here can help your company stand out as a supporter of the out-of-the-box. The most important thing to remember when looking to innovate is to believe in your employees. No idea is a bad idea, as all failures help us learn. A creative culture is the secret to a forward-thinking company, which doesn’t rest on its laurels but actively seeks out the future.

The government provides many opportunities for innovative companies to be rewarded. Innovation 2020 has a vision for Ireland to be a Global Innovation Leader, considering its prominence in the fields of engineering, pharmaceuticals and other R&D based sectors. Applying for grants, like Horizon 2020’s ‘Fast Track to Innovation’ grant, can make this happen, as those ideas which your employees now readily provide can be realised.


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