Free range ideas and cross-pollinated solutions10 Sep 2014
Top performing small and medium sized businesses discuss the challenge of sustaining a culture of innovation as the company grows.
Speaking at our Innovation Forum in Bristol last year, Rob Law, inventor of the Trunki, bemoaned inventors who are too precious and paranoid about their ideas to share them. Rob, who’s firm was crowned Santander SME of the Year in 2012, has created a culture of innovation based on collaboration, creativity and empowerment – with everyone contributing to the firm’s success.
There were lots of observations relating to this culture of innovation that were demonstrated by NBA finalists this year but a few in particular stood out:
- the most commercially successful innovations are designed in collaboration with customers
- innovative organisations have a knowledge sharing culture but they also celebrate failure and learn from it
- innovative employers empower everyone to innovate, not just creating new products and services but improving working processes and environments where it has immediate impact
- employees need time and space to be creative, away from the office and with new people
"In essence our employees are our brand ambassadors"
Serious Games International, shortlisted for the Market Gravity Innovation Award, clearly understand the relationship between talent and growth. “Without our employees we do not have a business,” says CEO Tim Luft. “In essence they are our brand ambassadors and for us it’s important that we encourage creativity, innovation and ideas, fully supporting them and generating opportunities for their career with the company.”
An innovator enabling clients to innovate, Serious Games holds innovation workshops and quarterly meetings with the CEO to brainstorm and develop ideas. “Staff away days give our employees the opportunity to be creative, imaginative and develop their skills - bringing ideas and lessons learned back into the workplace for the benefit of the company,” adds Tim. “We also operate a mentoring system whereby staff receive mentorship in other areas of work so that they get a greater understanding of the company as a whole. Therefore, they understand the bigger picture of where the company is going and the part they have to play in it.”
For The Fresh Group, a communications agency shortlisted for the 2014 Santander SME of the Year, creativity is its lifeblood. “We try to be creative in all areas of the business, from our office décor and company branding to our approach to health & well-being, companywide time off in lieu scheme and our social activities,” says Kelly Humphreys, the firm’s Operations and Procurement Manager.
The big question is how to sustain that culture as a small business grows. “It’s much easier to engender a feeling of inclusivity and collaboration when you have a small, close-knit team as Fresh did 9 or 10 years ago,” adds Kelly. “In the intervening years we have grown from 15 people to 95 and this exponential growth has been the catalyst for us to approach our culture and key people in a constantly evolving, innovative way. Our Time Off In Lieu scheme continues to be one of our most successful approaches to maintaining and rewarding creativity and hard work, as we believe this combined with our company wide annual bonus scheme is still untypical for our industry.”
"We realised that without these values we couldn’t hope to be successful"
101 London, another creative agency shortlisted for this award, was founded on its culture. “Our aim when starting 101 was to build a culture of respect, transparency, optimism, honesty, fun, resilience and generosity—and by so doing, give ourselves a competitive advantage,” says Founding Partner & Commercial Director, Steve Waring. “We realised that without these values which in turn lead to a culture of self belief we couldn’t hope to be successful in selling extraordinarily effective and sometimes scary creative answers.”
The agency, whose clients include the BBC, SABMiller and Häagen-Dazs, show how they value their team with free wine, beer and soft drinks, spot bonuses, paid for nights out, and early closing on a Friday; but they also demonstrate how values make them competitive.
“Our biggest challenge in what is an incredibly fast moving and constantly evolving media landscape is how to harness the fact that often the people that know the least about our business are also often the people that have the most instinctive grasp of how to communicate in the new mediums,” adds Steve. “We try and manage this by hiring people and taking on clients with the same values as 101 and believe a collaborative, respectful, fun environment is essential to allowing relatively junior employees to share their knowledge and opinions.”
"SMEs play an ever-increasing role in innovation driven by technologies and markets"
A similar culture and values were demonstrated by many of this year’s finalists who proved that it makes commercial sense. “SMEs play an ever-increasing role in innovation driven by technologies and markets,” observes Shortlist Judge Stephen Dury, Managing Director, SME Markets & Business Development, Santander Corporate & Commercial Banking. “This is particularly evident in this year’s entries where we see a variety of new ideas brought to life by visionary leadership, strong team engagement and social awareness, in order to meet the needs of their dedicated customer following.”
The winner of the Santander SME of the Year award will be announced at the National Business Awards Ceremony on 11th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane. To book your place(s) to attend the business event of the year see your table options here or call Matt Wilson on 020 7560 4106.