If I say ‘innovative company,’ who springs to mind? Amazon? Apple? Google? What makes them innovative and why is this important?

For the past three years international creative communication agency BergHind Joseph has conducted an annual study, Global Players, to examine emerging trends in how companies “foster a culture of innovation” and how they communicate their innovation strategies to the rest of the world.

The study focuses on why innovation is a critical factor to business success and why internal communication and the right culture are key for a business to be truly innovative.

It highlights a number of organisations including Salesforce, Amazon, L’Oréal, Hindustan Unilever, Pernod Ricard, Starbucks and Infosys.

These organisations are ranked in The World’s Most Innovative Companies list by Forbes, which uses the unique ‘innovation premium’ technique* to identify those businesses expected to be innovative today and in the future. *The technique projects a company’s income, adds anticipated growth and looks at its net present value (NPV).

Global PlayersHere Ian Brownhill, CEO and co-founder of BergHind Joseph writes for my blog to share with us the findings and trends from their latest study.

Ian has over has over 20 years’ experience of working in research, project management and strategic leadership roles for a range of organisations including Which?, Transport for London and the Prince of Wales’ Charities Group.

Over to you Ian…

How to release the power of innovation
We started Global Players because many of our clients were asking us to share lessons on what other businesses were doing, as they personally didn’t have time to find out as they spent most of their lives dealing with the everyday problems of corporate life.

We continue to do the research as we find it fascinating to see how the landscape keeps changing, especially as every business today is vying for attention in a crowded marketplace, searching for new and effective ways to stand out.

So what have we found?
Two years ago we identified innovation as one of the key qualities that businesses were pursuing. With the goal of improving their public image, many organisations were aspiring to become innovative problem solvers of key societal issues, from ageing populations through to climate change and rapid urbanisation.

This year the quest for innovation has become even more intense.

Innovation is no longer merely an ideal to aim for, but a fundamental quality, key to any business looking to differentiate itself and become more profitable.

Businesses must realise that paying lip service to the idea of innovation is not enough to convince either employees or customers.

Unleashing the power of innovation can only be achieved through establishing an innovative culture led by a focus on customer needs.

AmazonBrands can no longer rely on winning business from their status or marque alone, and long gone is the business model that focused purely on capital, labour and raw materials.

Success is now defined by how well a business understands its customers, both en masse and individually. A business must also understand and adapt to its local market; a notion that has been dubbed ‘hyper-personalisation’.

These changes in focus mean that today’s smaller, agile businesses are threatening the success of the corporate giants. Unencumbered by complex structures and protocols smaller enterprises are closer to their customers, giving such organisations a greater understanding of the people they are trying to serve while their lightweight infrastructures enable them to respond fast to consumer demands.

Innovation – it’s not all about future-gazing
When innovation is targeted and appropriate, it becomes the most important component in a business’s success.

Innovation does not require huge expenditure on research and development (R&D) or the creation of new products that will be used for many years to come. This type of innovation has its place, but most of the innovation referred to in 2013 Global Players relates to ways of operating a business, caring for employees and talking with customers.

Our review of some of the world’s most innovative businesses has highlighted four key themes:

  1. Innovation can be small– While 2011 Global Players found that businesses were aspiring to find big solutions to social challenges, this year’s study discovers innovation can be small but still have impact. Global Players 2013 finds that organisations with network-like, flatter structures are able to rapidly assess and adapt to markets, political environments and even to individual consumers.
  2. Customer-centricity – As Amazon puts it, ‘leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust’. Listening skills, market sensitivity and rapid reflexes are building today’s most successful businesses.
  3. Everyone innovates –Traditionally the innovation model was the preserve of specialised departments within a business, such as the R&D team. Today, top organisations are turning this model on its head by creating a company-wide innovation culture in which employees are encouraged to question established ways of doing things.
  4. Supporting staff Creating a working environment that is motivational, respectful, diverse, inclusive and offers staff their autonomy fosters innovation and results in an improved experience for the customer.

It is these themes that prove to businesses – whether large or small – that innovation doesn’t need huge investment or radical change programmes.

Instead, much of it comes from employees, providing them with the right opportunities, and by having a leadership structure in place that will cultivate the right internal culture.

It is from here that a strong connection with stakeholders will develop and so too will a stronger brand.

You can learn more about BergHind Joseph’s 2013 Global Players study and download a copy online.

Post author: Ian Brownhill.

Thank you Ian for highlighting this study. Some cracking quotes in there and I particularly welcome the approach in the final paragraph which underlines the importance of creating the right conditions for employees, and therefore innovation, to thrive.

What do you think of the study? Does any of the information surprise you? You’re welcome to tweet me @AllthingsIC or comment below.

How important is innovation in your company? Are you encouraging your employees to be innovative?

My final thought
If, like me, you’ve read Drive by Daniel Pink you’ll know about the excellent idea that is the FedEx day. It was invented by Australian software company Atlassian (who feature on my list of internal social media providers).

These one-day busts of autonomy allow people to work on anything they want, and crucially whatever they choose must not be part of their usual role.

Employees have to show what they have created to their colleagues 24 hours later. Why FedEx? Because you need to deliver something overnight.

Google famously has 20 per cent time – where employees are encouraged to work up to 20 per cent of their working week at Google focused on a special project. So for every standard working week, they can use a full day to work on a new project that is unrelated to their usual role. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 per cent time programme, including Gmail and AdSense.

Have you tried something like that? Would it work in your organisation as a way to encourage innovation? I’d love to know, do please contact me if you have something similar in place or would like to share how your company is innovative.

Check out my guest article guidelines and archive to see what works well for my blog. I look forward to hearing from you.


P.s. This week I published a brand new section of my blog – an internal communication glossary. This aim is to help keep your knowledge of internal communication sharp, to refresh your memory or perhaps to learn something new.

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