Big businesses acknowledge the importance of innovation, but it’s entrepreneurs and smaller businesses that are now innovation leaders and are redesigning the way industries work. That’s according to Alistair Cox, Hays plc CEO, who says that recruiting innovative staff is only one step in the process of bringing big business back to the position of industry innovators and leaders rather than followers.
Alistair says, “A fundamental element of true corporate innovation involves unlocking the entrepreneurial leadership gene in your wider workforce.”
Alistair says there are several factors behind the lack of innovation in big corporations. “These programmes are often secluded in one corner of the business, lack leadership or authority from board level and rather than spark a culture of innovation, simply limp along and then flicker out and die over time,” he says.
“Innovation is not an immediate asset to add to your company toolkit or balance sheet, something you can decide to invest in and predict a return on investment from.
“True innovation is also the close relation of disruption, whether that’s disrupting how we do things or whether it’s more fundamental than that and challenges why our business even exists.”
Alistair also says that real change takes time to develop. “Perseverance is a key attribute here and one of the facets often attributed to an entrepreneur is their ability to bounce back from a failure, learn from it and try again in a different way.
“Yet often in the corporate world, there is little appetite for failure and unsuccessful ventures can easily be criticised as a distraction and a waste of time and money, particularly when the rest of the organisation is working so hard to create that money in the first place.”
So how can innovation be achieved?
According to Alistair organisations must:
- Set expectations: By making it clear what is expected, innovation can avoid being given a bad name and forgotten about. It is also important to remember that innovation doesn’t always necessarily mean big life changing products.
- Aim small: If you truly expect your innovation investment to create a life-changing new service, product or business, you may be disappointed. However, innovation doesn’t always need to disrupt an entire business model. Some of the most effective innovations are small tweaks – new developments that layer on top of existing systems and processes rather than replacing them entirely.
- A supportive culture: The key to getting the most out of a business in terms of innovation is unlocking the entrepreneurial spirit within a business, which can be as simple as giving staff the freedom to cultivate ideas. Using Hays as an example Alistair says, “Here at Hays, we enable our staff to act ‘like an owner’, allowing managers to implement their own innovative strategies for success and encouraging employees to introduce their own ideas.”
“A lot has been written of the difficulties of a large, established and profitable business disrupting itself and I agree, it is difficult,” notes Alistair. “However, a corporate often has far more resources to tackle these issues than a new start-up that is balancing fundraising with recruitment with tech development with marketing with all the other distractions involved in the early days of a new company. If that isn’t motivation enough, business and global relations are now entering significantly uncertain times, and many businesses will be facing a ‘do-or-die’ phase in which those who don’t commit to driving real change will not just be left behind, but could find themselves out of the race altogether.”