Business innovation: What do big companies typically get wrong?

Written by
Sam Knight

25 Apr 2019

25 Apr 2019 • by Sam Knight

What do managers, employers and HR leaders really need to know about innovation? Pollen8 CEO Sam Knight offers snack-sized actionable insights.

What do big companies typically get wrong when it comes to innovation?

Many employees feel in the dark about what innovation is or how they can get involved. Bringing in external agencies or launching labs can result in people feeling more excluded. But innovation can only succeed if it engages staff right across the organisation. It tends to be employees closest to everyday problems who are the richest source of untapped potential. The best ideas and talent already exist inside your business, the key is accessing them.

Is the answer just 'open innovation?' 

It’s not just about asking employees for more ideas. Most companies already have more ideas than they know what to do with. It’s about organising, refining and tracking ideas in a transparent portfolio. This allows leaders to manage projects like a venture capitalist would; for example, with clear governance, learnings and no duplication of effort.

How do you engage employees around innovation?

Venture capitalists don’t just look for great ideas, they look for great people. That’s true internally too. It’s not just about the idea, it’s about finding the employee who believes in it enough and has the ingenuity and determination to make it happen. And staff must feel they have ‘skin in the game’ - if they introduce a new venture that gets backed, they should get to help lead and run it. That’s a world apart from classic open innovation which is often little more than a big suggestion box.

How can HR leaders support innovation?

Businesses need the right culture and the right system. Culturally, it’s important employees learn to think and act like entrepreneurs (being problem-centric, thinking big and starting small, celebrating learning). Businesses have systems for all other key functions (such as IT and finance) but not for innovation; that makes no sense. There’s a myth that innovation must be chaotic and messy but it can and should be elegant, systematic and orderly. It’s not about random sparks of genius, it’s about building an organisational capability. HR can play a key role in ensuring innovation happens from the bottom up