The ins and outs of innovation

Steve Pateman, Executive Director, Head of UK Banking, considers how the essence of the popular management concept 'Open Innovation' is accepting that the best ideas can come from unexpected places.

It starts at the top

In any business, leadership has to set the direction. This means business leaders should be open-minded, fully embracing ideas and approaches from a wide range of sources, including companies in their own sector, but also in others. This is one of the core strands of Open Innovation, which also means not being afraid to share your own best practice. If you limit your ability to do this, you will almost certainly be constraining how much your business could achieve and will essentially be holding back growth. It’s this continuous flow of knowledge and ideas that creates a dynamic economy.

All for one

There are a number of great examples of businesses where there is employee-ownership, or a high level of employee engagement. Small businesses can do this more easily because there are greater opportunities for connectivity – they have a common purpose, where everything matters to everyone. Visiting these types of businesses is an uplifting experience, seeing first-hand how teamwork can work so positively when everyone has a vested interest in a common goal. The challenge is in maintaining this connectivity as you grow and diversify. A culture can form in larger corporations where employees are scared to put their hand up and tell management their ideas in case they are negatively judged. Management should work very hard to avoid this, and to actually put in place procedures for listening to employees so they feel their opinion is valued and taken on board. Even if 99/100 of the ideas don’t work, there might be one which does, providing new insight, or a competitive edge.

The German approach

If you look at the German mid-market model – the Mittelstand – this approach is fundamental. Mid-market firms are owned by local government, by local authority. Again, there’s a connectivity, with the focus absolutely on the local economy, creating long-term employment. If you look at the kit in a German industrial business, for instance, it is not falling to pieces. They are constantly investing, constantly growing, because they are taking a long-term view.

Go where the ideas are

If you want to expand your business, go where the innovators are in your sector. Seek them out, and either get them on board as employees or access their knowledge in other ways. Be flexible and the benefits of doing this are potentially game-changing. Ideas are the lifeblood of a business – without them, even the best of companies can stagnate in previous successes. This is particularly true when taking a business overseas. Think about what you can offer that is new or ground-breaking. Do you have a product or service that’s never been seen before in the market you are entering? Also, don’t be afraid to admit your limitations. If you need fresh impetus or new approaches to an existing product or a different market, find the most talented and knowledgeable people and ask them how they would do the same thing.


At Santander, we’re always trying to innovate and find new ways of doing things, and I am delighted that Santander has, for the fourth year in a row, won Business Bank of the Year at the Business Moneyfacts Awards. The Awards recognise the banks delivering the most competitive products, the best levels of service and showing the greatest innovation in business and commercial finance.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK