Is your business good or great?26 Feb 2014
Before the official opening of the 2014 National Business Awards in March, Programme Director Alex Evans explains what sets award-winning organisations apart
Britain’s best businesses have competed for accolades ranging from New Business of the Year to FTSE 100 Business of the Year through the NBAs, writes Alex Evans. While they all tend to be profitable, well-run businesses, the truly great ones set themselves apart in the way they innovate, enable staff and engage customers.
In the TED tradition of ‘ideas worth spreading’, here are some observations and insights into what great businesses do and why they win awards:
Large organisations including BMW, Virgin, and Barclaycard have learned how to recognise, develop and invest in their internal entrepreneurs and start-ups to create market leading, and often transforming, products and services. Venture Boards, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ rooms (exploring ideas in one and challenging them in the other), and future scenario sessions are among some of the processes – not to mention corporate partnerships with social enterprises and start-ups (more on that later). There are even awards for this, with Telefonica recognised two years in a row at Market Gravity’s Corporate Entrepreneur Awards for best new corporate venture (Smart Steps is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in crowd analytics) and best example of building an entrepreneurial culture (accolades that really help with that ‘employer of choice’ thing). Telefonica’s Wayra was created to keep technology talent and IP in the business, but now provides a platform for Telefonica to engage a broader community of partners in the private and third sectors while amplifying key PR messages.
Innovation consultancy Market Gravity is one of a growing number of firms launching awards to build a community from their client base while engaging media and strategic partners to punch above their weight PR-wise (media partner WIRED works with Market Gravity on its CE Awards to highlight its focus on entrepreneurship – so awards can help publications reposition or even rebrand themselves).
A key component of Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway, an Olympic legacy project to accelerate tech innovation across the UK, is the BIG Awards – which recognise the best start-ups coming through its networks while promoting its collaboration tools. By aligning this activity with its CSR policy, Cisco is not only telling a story about how it’s supporting the UK’s tech economy but also providing opportunities for its big clients to tick a CSR or employee engagement box by working with exciting start-ups or social enterprises. Wates Group, winner of our inaugural Corporate Citizenship Award, launched a social enterprise brokerage as part of its goal to have at least one social enterprise on every £1m plus project – and is encouraging the wider construction industry to do the same. Wates’ leadership in this area is making it a supplier of choice AND an employer of choice.
Just as the BIG Awards are helping Cisco to engage its consultants as mentors, Barclays’ Citizenship Awards have helped it to motivate its corporate and retail call centre teams – not simply by recognising top performers but by having global ExCo members present the awards at a glittering ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ style event. FTSE 250 outsourcing firm MITIE has a policy of encouraging and supporting talent outside work so people bring their whole selves to work – a cultural investment that helped it win the Leadership Diversity Award last year and Leader of the Year for its CEO Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE in 2012.
Culture of innovation
Processes to identify and develop big ideas are all well and good but innovation doesn’t have to be invention - it’s also about innovating in the workplace and improving processes. “When someone’s suggestion is put into practice in the business it’s hugely motivating and supports that culture of innovation,” said Rob Law, CEO of 2012 Santander SME of the Year Trunki. But even this kind of innovation has to be empowered, according to Ann Parker from Wayra. “Empowerment is key for innovation; people must feel empowered to innovate in all areas of the business or to challenge the norm,” she said. “Businesses should also celebrate failure, learn from it and share that learning to improve future innovation.” Mike Tobin, CEO of TelecityGroup and a 2013 Leader of the Year finalist was commended by judges for giving his people permission to fail – as long as they share what they learn from their mistakes so no-one else repeats them.
Empowered improvement encourages initiative. There were numerous examples of customer service teams from big companies challenging policies that created barriers to new business among last year’s finalists - becoming a channel for customer led innovation in the process. This also boosts staff engagement - as employees feel they have a voice and they are being listened to.
The Ultimate Question
One of the most impressive success stories of 2012 that we followed in 2013 was zaggora.com who grew a business to $25m in less than two years using social commerce. Its model was based on The Ultimate Question by Bain & Co’s Fred Reichheld, creator of the Net Promoter System. “Reichheld says the only long term strategy for business growth is customer satisfaction and the ultimate question is would your customer recommend you to a friend?”, said CEO Malcolm Bell. “We realised we couldn’t compete with the Nike’s of the world on product marketing but we can offer an experience.” This experience was flash mob gym events and over 10,000 customer ambassadors testing and recommending products. At the other end of the spectrum, marcomms giant (and FTSE 100 finalist) WPP created its ‘unconference’ WPP Stream to connect clients with thought-leaders that WIRED has described as ‘one of the world’s best tech conferences’. This has really helped WPP to engage clients and partners at a deeper level – and made it a strong contender for QBE FTSE 100 Business of the Year in 2013.
Customer experience is the big differentiator for business, helping smaller disruptors to compete successfully with the big players – and enabling big players to re-connect with customers. The right experience, or experience partner (how about 'experience architects' Living Social?), can help to increase loyalty and business from new and existing customers. Every firm shortlisted for a National Business Award demonstrates an investment in measuring and improving customer satisfaction - and the impact it’s had on the bottom line.
There is nothing more satisfying than being proved right – especially if the plan or vision has taken a leap of faith from the board, colleagues, investors and family. An award elevates this satisfaction to pride among all of those involved. That’s why, whenever we present a National Business Award, the CEO never says “we've proved we're better than them” and always says “this proves to our people the hard work was worth it”.
Award-winning, great businesses go one step beyond by taking risks and investing in excellence – not to compete but to constantly improve.
If your business has achieved something exceptional, or is exceptional in the way it does business, register for the 2014 National Business Awards before 28th February and get £100 off the cost of entry.