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How to boost business success through employees and innovation

The question of how to drive business success is a question that all industry leaders will ask themselves in order to raise profit, reputation and growth.

Two large factors behind this are staying innovative and reactive to changes, but also largely the people behind the ‘product’. This can be especially true when looking at consulting, financial services and professional services where specialist tertiary skills that employees require mean they are the valuable assets or 'product' that drive the business itself.

But with innovation driven by people, the two are closely related. A recent McKinsey survey of senior executives almost unanimously agreed at 94% that people and workplace culture were the most important drivers of innovation. Hiring enthusiastic recruits to your company who are aligned to the company's vision and are brimming with new ideas will always help a business to succeed. The technology markets are spheres of much innovation and young graduates can offer a different perspective here, so they should be encouraged to give ideas and be part of the innovation process.

Ambition, market confidence, senior relationships, exceptional customer service and providing excellent results are all very valuable and important drivers for success and growth within business, though still part of the 'employee' category. If you are recruiting exceptional people for your company, they should possess these skills to excel and bring these aspects to your business.

However, McKinsey also point out that whilst these executives cite innovation as a key driver for business success, few executives actually actively encourage or model innovative behaviour. If they did, they could give employees more support to innovate. Effective, creative management of people allows for an open balanced work culture that can feed innovation. Only people can deliver quality improvement in a business and for them to work well, they must be empowered, given direction, measured, reviewed and success recognised. Google is most famous for this with its range of techniques to facilitate group discussions and problem solving. Some of their initiatives include:

  • Google Cafés, which are designed to encourage interactions between employees within and across teams, and to spark conversation about work as well as play.
  • Direct emails to any of the company’s leaders.
  • '20 percent' projects which allow engineers to spend 20% of their work week on projects that interest them. This allows Google to tap into the many talents of its employees and create an enthusiastic workforce.
  • ‘FixIts’, 24-hour sprints where Googlers drop everything and focus 100 percent of their energy on solving a specific problem.
  • The use of a wide range of surveys so that employees are constantly kept in the loop and feel part of a democratic decision-making process.

Laszlo Bock, the former VP of People Operations at Google, said that Google has cultivated a creative and passionate workforce by using these techniques – employees are made to know and feel that is they themselves who hold the key to the company's innovation. Bock says “People look for meaning in their work. People want to have some ability to shape that environment” and Google allows them to do so. In many ways, it is, therefore, no wonder why Google has become so successful.

Though there is another element to business success that PWC and Booz&Company's  collaborative 'Strategy&' 2013 survey discovered. They suggested that clear brand identity was what drove business success. They cited companies such as Apple, BMW, Royal Dutch Shell, Coca-Cola and Walmart as some of the brands that have a truly distinctive way of showing that their products provide value, are unique and consistent over time. This, in turn, has enabled them to reap huge success, measured in terms of three year growth of total shareholder return. This showed that companies with clear identities enjoy a stronger performance and that one of the biggest problems for strategists is having too many disconnected initiatives that do not link up to a clear and rounded whole. Therefore, whilst innovation is a big driver for success, it should not be taken to the other extreme with a swathe of creative ideas that end up not contributing to an image of a brand with powerful capability.

So, whilst both employees and innovation are major drivers for business success, they must be nourished in tandem to enrich the workplace and promote growth, for themselves as well as the business. Valued and trusted employees are more likely to feel supported to 'think outside the box' for new innovative solutions or ideas. However, always keep in mind that there should be a consistent company message to promote brand growth.