Let’s embrace a culture of innovation

By: Debbie Simpson, Innovation Adviser

Working at the North East BIC on the SME Innovation Programme allows me to speak to many companies and individuals, giving me a great insight into how they work and how they have evolved.

From walking into a building it’s clear whether the company is forward thinking and has an innovative culture and that’s without even speaking to anyone. Yes – it can be costly to revamp your premises but small changes can reap so many benefits and make a big difference to the general perception of your business and in helping to encourage an ethos of innovation.

Yesterday the Innovation team held our weekly meeting in the Innovation Zone here at the BIC and although we’ve been in there many times, it so lifts your spirits and heightens your enthusiasm by simply being in the state-of-the-art surroundings. Bright colours, clear cut designs, technology at hand and contemporary styling simply says “we’re going places”. The Innovation SuperNetwork currently reside in the Innovation Zone, suitably named and suitably placed.

Innovation Zone at North East BIC

But (and there’s always a ‘but’), isn’t it more about having the right attitude and the organisational culture that is created? Maybe you’re the only member of staff, does it matter? It’s true that innovation doesn’t often happen on its own, and if you truly want to innovate throughout your company, you must generate a culture that rewards creativity, encourages cooperation, accepts inspiring ideas, and fosters a positive working style that ultimately, creates more opportunities for every individual.

The big question is, how do you create an innovative culture?

It’s certainly more than just talking about it, it’s about ‘doing’. Taking action. Demonstrating to your work force that you’re committed to a better and brighter future and that it is not solely the domain of leaders but that it can come from anyone in the organisation. I think in the ‘old days’ they had a ‘suggestion box’ – well it’s a bit more than that. Here’s some ideas to get you started.

  • Pursue accidental innovation. Not all innovation is planned, if you can get your staff to be on the look-out for novel ideas and processes often born out of mistakes and hiccups in their work processes, it can introduce a new way of thinking and pay off handsomely.
  • Commit to innovating. Lead the way – set an example. It means pledging and protecting the important resources required – set time, money, people, and equipment aside ready for the big push forward.
  • Reward and highlight the right behaviour such as good teamwork and collaboration, honesty and trusting your colleagues. On the flip side try to eliminate bad conduct and highlight that it’s simply not acceptable.
  • Create a clear communication culture – let the ideas be heard and be respectful. Transparency is essential for teamwork and establishing trust within the organisation.
  • Introduce an innovation process – from capturing an idea through to executing it in the workplace (I guess we’re going back to the ‘Suggestions box’!). This includes measuring the outcomes, and whether the success and areas of improvement have been achieved.
  • Ownership – Staff who believe their ideas don’t matter generally don’t offer them. Employees need to know that they are important and so are their ideas, and by contributing that idea it could make a difference to the rest of the workforce. Creating a sense of ownership for each employee is a process that impacts the overall attitude of each and every person at your company. For example, the department store John Lewis which is an employee owned co-operative, is regularly top of the list when it comes to customer service.

If you’d like to find out more about the SME Innovation Programme please call 0191 516 6039 or email the team at innovation@ne-bic.co.uk

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