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Driving Innovation from within your business

When you’re looking to develop a culture of continual growth within your business, no one will know more about your business than the people working within it.

When things go wrong or we’re seeking improvements within our businesses, it’s so easy to turn to a consultant – that font of all knowledge who can supposedly make the world a better place. So often we believe these proverbial “business doctors” can analyse our entire operation, and solve any problem which comes in our direction. Let’s get this straight from the onset – while consultants can provide excellent advice in certain areas, when it comes to providing growth through innovation, there’s a potentially much better and cheaper source of solutions – your workforce.

Over the last two decades we’ve worked within a series of business and economic support organisations, and have seen a raft of advisors and consultants, both great and not so great. In our opinion, the less effective are those who claim to be able to solve any or all of your problems, while the most effective are those who specialise. For example, if you’re in the North of England and want advice on manufacturing, you’re most likely going to look little further than the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) in the first instance, as they clearly specialise in the required field, and have a raft of excellent advisors and associates. Ditto for UKTI (UK Trade and Industry) if you’re seeking to expand your business to other countries.

But, when you’re looking to develop a culture of continual growth within your business, and the capacity to identify, address, and implement solutions to problems and opportunities on a daily basis, no one will know more about your business than the people working within it. Sure, consultants are great to help with certain aspects of the business and various techniques, but where you work you’ve got an entire workforce who understand your business, have identified and relate to the problems, and know the nitty gritty of what goes wrong and what can make things better.

You’re probably starting to think about this in a little more detail, but are still sceptical. You might be thinking “Bill always complains about the machines but doesn’t come up with solutions, Helen’s got great ideas but they’re a bit pie-in-the-sky and don’t relate to our problems, Jim’s just great at sitting there turning the handle at a steady rate’”. This brings together everything you need for teamwork within an innovation culture.

When it comes to implementing innovation in it’s most effective way, your staff are like a lego kit – each person is a single piece which may have use in isolation, but is most crucial when their skills, knowledge and personalities are brought together. The challenge with lego kits is that to make precisely what you want, you need instructions – a plan. Your plan here is provided in the form of training that helps your workforce identify, create and implement beneficial solutions on an ongoing basis. Innovation is about rules – simple rules – that ensure you build on each other’s strengths and eradicate the weaknesses.

From our experience, we’ve found that the most effective way to develop a culture of innovation is to provide training in two key areas. Firstly, you need a series of departmentalised specialists who help identify and facilitate innovation projects at the local level, and secondly, innovation champions who act as the conduit between your specialists and the senior management team.

Having the localised contact provides a relative point of contact to help develop ideas which are pushed from within the department and relate to more specific problems and opportunities. They also have the skill set to develop ideas which are pushed from the senior management team via the innovation champions. All in all, a robust system which lets you draw on the skills and experience of your workforce.

Developing this type of effective innovation culture helps you address problems and opportunities on a daily basis, ensuring you grow at a faster rate than your competitors. And, it saves you a hell of a lot of money on the type of consultants that you don’t need.

Richard Harrison