Secret to SME innovation? Getting managers to butt out!

New research has found the three most important tools for nurturing innovation at work is having fast and reliable broadband, whiteboards for creative brainstorms and widespread high-speed mobile internet access to enable employees to share ideas from anywhere. Only 7 per cent who took part in the ‘Exact Innovation Pulse Check’ said having beanbags, Ping-Pong tables and any other funky break-out area additions had any impact.

The right culture was also deemed as fundamental to getting creative juices flowing at work – with 60 per cent saying the best way to influence that is by ensuring leadership teams stop meddling so much and encourage greater autonomy among its staff. This is followed by making sure there are continuous training and development initiatives available for employees to keep up to date with the latest trends, and having a flat hierarchical structure to encourage more open and free flowing lines of communication.

The biggest killer of innovation among entrepreneurs who took part is a lack of encouragement from leadership teams – with 59 per cent saying those at the top need to adopt more of a ‘no idea is a bad idea’ attitude to avoid that. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that was closely followed by ‘a lack of time to focus on innovation’, with many saying they are too busy on other tasks, and employees reluctant to change.

Technology also plays its part; over half think having the right technology improves efficiency, half say it promotes better collaboration and say it makes it easier and more cost effective to trial and test ideas out first.

Erik van der Meijden, CEO of Exact said: “This survey was commissioned following a recent global index that showed the UK was one of the most innovative countries in the world, second only to Switzerland. We wanted to find out how UK entrepreneurs could go one better.

“What we found is that it isn’t necessarily the Google-style offices and latest technology that makes people tick after all. While these things do help, we shouldn’t neglect the importance of old fashioned brainstorming on whiteboards and supporting staff by getting off their backs.”

Jane Gomez, Managing Director at The Supper Club, added: “Innovation is central to building a successful SME business. What our members tell us is that the secret to doing so is really quite simple: don’t underestimate the importance of trusting your staff and allowing them the space to create their own success.”