by Robin Grainger 21st April, 2017
3 min read

7 Tips for Encouraging innovation

GK has a mantra, I’m sure we stole it from somewhere else; in fact, it was the first thing I was told when I attended my first brainstorm session (thought shower, creative thinking session, or whatever the PC term is for this now) over 18 years ago: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BAD IDEA

While this might sound a little David Brent, it’s a good way to encourage staff, especially junior ones, to feel confident enough to contribute to the discussion and not be laughed at. Worrying about what others think or might say back, can stifle innovation.

Innovation and encouraging innovation has been a key driver for our business. GK has been taking our core capabilities into new verticals and in doing so, actively growing the Public Affairs market. Alongside doing this, GK has looked at what other services it can then sell into these, in addition to our existing, verticals. In all our verticals we rely upon our core skill set (research, insight and communication) but combined with a specialist understanding of each market. We take time, in all cases years, to understand the dynamics, pressures and personalities in each market, and then develop a bespoke product and team for each.

There are a lot of organisations out there that need our help, more than we all think.

So, how to innovate?

We haven’t perfected it, it’s a work in progress. Most of our staff are consumed by delivering for clients, so need to be given the time and encouragement, that this too is part of their day job. Some things that have worked include:

1)     Leading from the top – One of our founders in particular (and I find him difficult to keep up with), is like a one-man ideas factory. He has instigated a spirit of what he likes to call – intrapreneurlism, where we inspire staff to become in-house entrepreneurs, give them lots of time, some resource and a whole lot of encouragement to pursue their own ideas.

2)     BETA testing – find a partner who can provide the service (in our case this is mostly by using freelancers) then when the concept has been proved, bring them in-house. By adopting this approach GK have launched a standalone sister agency, onefourzero, which is now on an explosive growth path that will make it bigger than the original business in the next couple of years.

3)     Getting the sales and marketing team involved from the start – If they are going to have to sell it, they need to totally understand the product, the idea behind it and be bought into the concept.

4)     Looking at what your competitors are doing, but not copying them – There are often growth opportunities outside the established market that your competitors are all fighting over. In our case by thinking creatively and educating new clients as to the need, we have grown the market which benefits everyone.

5)     Looking for best practice in other markets – We have always tried to look at what other advisory business are offering and more importantly what they’re not offering, and that there is a need for.

6)     Don’t be scared of failure – business is about taking risks, not all of them will pay off. As long as you manage the risk profile and processes, failure is an important step towards a viable proposition.

7)     Listen to your customers – you customers are the heart of your business, they have already made a commitment to you and understand their unmet needs more than you ever can. Ask them what they want and then action it. GK has done this informally to date but is in the process of establishing Customer Advisory Boards to help cement this in our DNA.

Following the processes outlined above and being an SME affords us the flexibility to bounce back from failure and pursue other avenues. While efficient delivery for our clients is always priority, innovation is the only way to drive business growth. On a macro level, innovation is the cause of economic growth and increased welfare. According to Baumol, the renowned NYU economist, the nature of capitalism means that “virtually all of the economic growth that has occurred since the eighteenth century is ultimately attributable to innovation”. To grow, you need to innovate internally, by increasing efficiency, and externally, to broaden the market – so start brainstorming.

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