Why is there so much pressure to innovate?

Kerrie Laird, Customer Experience and Innovation Lead at Vodafone on why innovation is crucial to a business and how technology can help lead the way to business success.

Innovation is the key to business success today. Yes it helps create efficiencies but with the world changing so rapidly, creating new demands and expectations, is innovation a response to this overall change?

First organisations need to consider the scope and scale of innovation. Remember innovation isn’t just about the WHAT you sell or deliver but the HOW – changes to processes, ways to interact with customers, to get feedback on new product or service designs etc.

Here at Vodafone, I run innovation workshops for UK businesses and time and time again I see three  main reasons companies want to innovate:

  • Business growth – Many organisations acknowledge that in order to grow, they have to change or innovate.  Barclays Bank is an example of this; whilst banking remains at the core of the business, they have diversified into helping local communities make the most of online via a service called ‘Digital Eagles’. From developing Internet skills, to teaching children to code, the company is also helping to bring members of the community together who ordinarily may not have a social circle to mix in.
  • Survival – Businesses recognise that if they don’t adapt to changing market demands, they don’t survive. Often this is not being able to meet increasing consumer demand for personalisation and convenience.  Many big brand names today are offering ‘value adds’, for example, you can get a free cup of coffee at Waitrose if you have a store card and next day delivery as an Amazon Prime member is now standard.
  • Adapting to change – Change is a necessity to propel a business forward.  Companies who continually evolve their business offerings to keep up with/stay ahead of the markets are more likely to succeed and grow. Dyson started off by developing and manufacturing vacuum cleaners and are now a global brand in hand driers. Vodafone started off as a mobile network operator but today also owns its own fixed network and offers a wider range of business communication services such as Lone Worker Protection, Total Workforce Mobility, Workplace Transformation consultancy, Broadband etc.

Why do large businesses struggle to be innovative?

All this opportunity though, does come at a price with businesses facing a number of common challenges when looking to innovate:

  • Customer satisfaction – businesses are keen to ensure change doesn’t negatively impact their customers, even during times of organisational change.
  • Fear of failure – fear of losing face internally is a barrier, but particularly if there’s a chance of a public failure that could be difficult to keep under the radar.
  • Brand negativity – organisations with strong well-known brands are cautious to change in case it has a negative impact on their brand perception and subsequently on their share price.
  • Culture and an ageing workforce – organisations can face challenges with engaging staff in new ways of working and integrating them with technology savvy employees.
  • Attraction of talent – organisations that are perceived as ‘traditional’ can struggling to attract the right talent who could help drive innovation.
  • Stakeholder engagement – securing budget to invest in the incubation of ideas can be a challenge. Some senior management teams are reluctant to be seen to be diverting investment away from the core business. Innovation needs to demonstrate a quick ROI for shareholders benefit.

If businesses are prepared to acknowledge the above yet are still willing to take the risk and pursue the development of their innovative ideas, the opportunities that can be generated can outweigh the barriers significantly. Can you imagine what the smartphone industry would be like without the iPhone, if Facebook hadn’t been created or what our everyday lives would be like without the mobile internet – the examples are endless.

Top tips for embedding innovation into organisational culture

  • Empower your employees to manage their time whilst still delivering against their objectives. This doesn’t necessarily mean that working from home should replace ‘presenteeism’. Let them work where they need to, when they need to in order to do their job best.
  • Support your employees by providing the right tools and technology so they can collaborate with their colleagues efficiently, and so they can work anywhere if you decide that’s the right solution.
  • Encourage individuals to work outside of their core teams and comfort zones to other areas of the business, to enable fresh thinking and new ideas.
  • Support individuals to undertake roles and responsibilities in addition to their day job that they are passionate about.

Better Ways of Working is at the core of our culture, and by working in this way across the whole business we are able to cast our net wide across the UK for recruitment of the best talent.  Take our Innovation programme for example, it’s a virtual team made up of our core Innovation team in the US which is supported by a number of Innovation Champions and Agents spread across the globe that, in addition to their day jobs are passionate about helping our customers innovate.  We have built an eco-system of Innovation advocates who collaborate virtually in order to share stories and content and help feed the content into customer sessions.

What are the critical factors for developing an innovative culture?

Empowering and encouraging employees to be confident to put their ideas forward is key.  Running initiatives like rewarding the best ideas and recognising the individuals who have submitting them is a great way of keep employee engagement high.

Listening to employees’ ideas is not enough on its own, taking the good ones forward and implementing them is important for building a culture where employees feel they are contributing to growing the business.

How can technology be used as an enabler to cultural development?

Using idea-sharing technology such as SharePoint enables people to share ideas regardless of where they work.  Platforms such as this help build communities and often end up being used for more than just idea submission e.g. sharing of insight, questions and answering services etc.

Though the use of mobile based learning applications such as ‘Fuse’, companies can develop their learning and development strategies to move away from traditional classroom based training, which can take advisors away from customers. At Vodafone UK we now use this technology to push out story-based animation online to approx. 4,000 users. We are seeing engagement of up to 10,000 views per day, with 50% of access outside of working hours (powered by flexible working) and 90% on personal devices, (permitted by our BYOD scheme).

Download the report