How to put innovation at the heart of everything you do

Is your company ‘intrapreneurial’? We hear regularly about the need for large companies to encourage their teams to be innovative and entrepreneurial, but does the same apply to small and medium sized businesses? And if so, how do they do it?

Whilst you might expect businesses at the small and medium end of the spectrum to be entrepreneurial at their core, it’s easy for the energy and creativity to get swallowed up by the day to day running of the business. Even if you as a business leader are dynamic, innovative, and entrepreneurial, it might not necessarily rub off automatically on your staff. Even if it does, they might not have the time or impetus to harness their ideas in the right way, which is particularly true if your business grows quickly and teams become absorbed in simply meeting demand and keeping up with the pace.

So, how can small and medium businesses make sure innovation happens day in, day out, so that it becomes natural and part of the every day? There is no single correct answer; in fact the best approach is a combination of different behaviours and processes.

Firstly, you should play to your size. As a small business you have agility on your side, so use it to your advantage. Less people and bureaucracy means a lot more flexibility and more room for new suggestions and innovations. Ideas can also be trialled a lot more easily and decisions made a lot more quickly, without countless management layers.

Of course, to capitalise on the ideas in the first place, your team must also be empowered. People are attracted to working in high growth businesses by the exciting, fast-paced environment and the greater influence they can have over both their own roles and the direction of company as a whole. Give employees the autonomy, space and encouragement to innovate and it will create new revenue streams and ways of working, whilst also keeping them engaged and feeling like they are really playing a part in the company’s development.

Another thing it’s important to remember is that great ideas really do come from anywhere and are not be limited to the boardroom. From trainees to financial directors, your company could be a hotbed of creativity if everyone is encouraged to share ideas. Regular company brainstorms are a great way of getting people to think in a different way, with no limitations. Reminding everyone that no idea is a bad idea also frees them up to make suggestions without fear of criticism.

If you are successful in stimulating innovation within your business, make sure you reward those who came up with the big idea as well as those who implemented it. You could even offer financial incentives, or a share of profits generated from the very best innovations that deliver financial savings or new revenues.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that innovation doesn’t have to be radical and disruptive. Small improvements to everyday activities that improve customer satisfaction, increase efficiencies or solve ongoing problems can generate value for your business.

Whilst it may feel like a challenge to embark on innovation projects when you’re a small business owner, you should remember that the best innovations are developed as a result of overcoming challenges. The most dynamic innovations of the last century have been successful because they achieved something easier, faster or better, or because people weren’t happy with how the current products worked for them. Think of innovation like a continual process of improving, changing, keeping things fresh and perhaps most importantly, staying connected with your customers and your markets. If you remain focused on what they need and want to buy your ideas can be the key to business growth and success.