The original Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising had no problem unlocking innovation. However, when Maurice and Charles Saatchi wanted to buy the crisis-struck Midland Bank their board prevented them from doing so, much to the brothers’ frustration.

Whether or not this was a wise move on the part of the board will never be known for sure, but it did effectively kill the golden goose. Saatchi & Saatchi, the business they had invested in, was successful because we did wild, off the wall stuff and behaved in ways traditional business leaders often couldn’t fathom.

You probably wouldn’t get away with the behaviour the agency exhibited these days, but I come across businesses every week that could use a lesson from Saatchi in unlocking innovation.

Innovate to survive

In the fast-paced digital marketplace everything happens far quicker than was the case when Saatchi’s were the wild-child of the advertising fraternity. Today product lifecycles, as well as the lifespan of ideas are far shorter than ever before. Consequently, these days, unlocking innovation is critical to a firm staying in business. More than ever before, you are only as good as your NEXT big idea.

In the digital economy the capability of any business to innovate is stretched to its limits. For one thing, innovation these days is pretty much all about technology and the leaders of most established businesses aren’t sufficiently familiar with it to prompt the level of innovation businesses need.

A new role for senior executives

New research by Spencer Stuart confirms that the average non-exec in British boardrooms is 60 years old. I’m not suggesting that their experience doesn’t have value in a modern business, but that value lies in their ability to facilitate rather than coming up with the ideas in the first place. To be an instigator you really need to be a digital native, who instinctively thinks in terms of technology.

As Spencer Stuart suggest British businesses need to bring more young talent into the boardroom, if only in the form of advisory committees, but traditional executives need also to change their ways. The British tradition of command and control management just doesn’t cut it in the digital economy.  I’ve already highlighted the unique position digital natives occupy in this new universe, but before they can unlock the innovation within their workforce, traditional executives need to give more thought to how they apply their experience to the development of the ideas younger executives come up with.

Facilitating innovation

I have developed an approach to this that I incorporate into my Brand-Led Business Transformation programme. This unlocks innovation by reviving the old “ideas box” principle in a process model designed to encourage contributions from internal stakeholders at all levels. I’ve incorporated facilitation, within a strict development framework, that takes ideas to Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and, if they qualify, eventually beyond.

The extended Brand-Led Business Transformation model introduces a framework within which, not only are internal stakeholders at all levels encouraged to innovate, but senior executives are directed into a facilitatory role. This way any business can evolve a cooperative model that’s right for the digital economy.

This is how you set about unlocking innovation in a modern business and it’s also how you bring about effective and efficient transformation.

Helping senior executives play their part in innovation

I’ve written and spoken many times of the need for UK business leaders to change their ways. I appreciate it’s difficult for some executives to re-model themselves. After all, they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m optimistic. Our senior executives are smart enough to have got to where they are, so they should be smart enough to recognise the end of the road, for their style of management, when they get to it. However, if you are really stuck in a rut, there are enough business coaches out there to ensure every executive gets the help they need. It’s sad that we Brits have always tended to shun help and this reflects in our senior executives’ failure to make the changes they should. However, I’m sure, deep down inside, even the most staunch Luddite will recognise this is definitely the “last chance saloon”.

Businesses need to find ways of leveraging the younger members of their workforce. After all, more than 60% of them are bound to be millennials, which matches the target audience of most businesses. Nobody is going to appreciate the needs of the market better than your own workforce.  

The role of internal marketing

It’s no news that most businesses are pretty bad at internal communications. Improving this has to be a priority, which is why, after brand modelling and brand development, it’s the primary focus of the third phase of Brand-Led Business Transformation. 

Building a real brand community and democratising your organisation go hand-in-hand. Predictably, disrupters are good at this. ET Rise reports this week that founders and CEOs in India are taking the lead here, but it doesn’t have to stop at engaging employees in improving working conditions, smart businesses are engaging their employees and other stakeholders in things like process design and product development.

Yes, it’s a big step for many business leaders, but one you must take if your organisation is to survive the digital economy. What’s more the help you need is readily available. It’s an essential component of real business transformation and represents the difference between “change” which many businesses mistakenly believe to be transformation and the real deal.

I spend a great deal of time talking to business leaders and helping them understand the challenges of transformation and doing business in the digital economy, but there’s no escaping the need to engage employees in the process if you want to succeed.

Phil Darby
June 26, 2019

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