THE BLOG

How to Innovate in Big Business

09/06/2014 12:33 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

Industry seems to be moving at a rapid speed! Recycling and waste management is no exception to the accelerating pace of industrial change and recycling itself is now evolving as companies take the next steps to embrace the circular economy revolution.

SMEs are known to be innovators that launch new business ideas into the marketplace, but I don't believe they are unique in this respect - to my mind whatever the size of the business what matters is creating a culture for innovation.

Here is some advice that I was given to help create a culture of creativity and innovation in any business:

Diversity = Innovation!

If we're all the same and think the same how will we ever innovate! We're working hard to increase diversity at Veolia. For many years our industry was known as traditional and male-dominated - not any more! When I say diversity, I don't just mean gender, but ethnicity, sexuality, age and disability too.

There's no quick fix in this area but as a company we're improving and recruiting more people from outside the industry.

Cultural Change

The entrepreneurial profile isn't well adapted to the classic big corporation, where you can find a mix of red tape and hierarchy that will make your innovators look elsewhere to explore their idea. But in a growth strategy, they are vital to the company to offer new ideas and turn them into marketable business. To retain them, big companies need to transform their culture to foster innovation and empowerment within the organisation.

Offer support

People are not always forthcoming with new ideas so you must support them. They must feel comfortable in thinking imaginatively to explore new possibilities. So how can you coax these ideas out from your colleagues? We have built this approach into how we do business by appointing eight innovation managers who support staff, provide platforms where they can brainstorm together, develop new concepts and then help convert them into reality.

Feedback

Innovation schemes are not a new concept but to make it really fly there are two hurdles you must jump. First, get the right ideas and second be able to feed back. Providing support can help develop the right ideas for your business but for me objective feedback is then the number one priority to ensure engagement continues - if someone puts the time to putting forward an idea, but doesn't get feedback, they won't come back! This involves mentoring on our side, but if that person comes back with a better idea it will have paid dividends.

Accept to fail

Not all ideas are good, and not all projects can be successful. Innovation schemes are a platform to identify new ideas that will ultimately convert into new profitable business. You shouldn't feel obliged to say yes to everything! Think clearly (without any influence), choose the best ideas, but as just discussed always feedback. In the lifetime of a project, even if it started as a good idea, the project may end up not being worth it, not possible etc... Recognising when we need to stop is key to success. Entrepreneurs do it all the time. They have an idea, they throw it away, start again, pivot, evolve, etc... To truly succeed collectively we must recognise that failure will lead to success.

These steps are not quick wins, but they are a good place to start. We've had it in place for a year and we are now beginning to see the fruits of our labour - ultimately we want to get to place where innovation becomes second nature i.e. just how we do business!

If it hadn't been for innovation, we'd never have got there and it's great to see our efforts to turn the circular economy into a reality being reflected by the First Woman Awards, in association with Lloyds Banking Group, with our shortlisting in the manufacturing category.

Have you tried any of the advice above? Would be great to know below how it went for your business?