Celebrating the Leadership of Innovation in SMEs 

How important is innovation to your business strategy?  

CEOs of large firms often state that innovation is of greater importance for growth than a strategy of merger or acquisition. Many also say they find it challenging. What can small-medium sized businesses (SMEs) learn from this? 

Those are questions seven local business leaders have successfully addressed on the QuoLux™ GAIN™ program and reflected upon when the two cohorts came together to celebrate their graduation. 

GAIN MBA celebration

(L-R: Dr Jim Keane, University of Gloucestershire; Dr Stewart Barnes, CEO, QuoLux™; Sam Kandiyali MBA, Director, Target PR; Simon Kershaw MBA, Managing Director, SK Refrigeration, Heating & Cooling; Hayley Coombs MBA, Sales & Operations Director, MF Freeman; Dan Hodgson MBA, Vice President Sales & Marketing, Prima Dental; Phil Vickery MBE DL, owner and director, No. 3 Restaurants.)

First, they recognised innovation as a business strategy rather than the spontaneous whim of an inventor. While innovation requires bright ideas, the process of developing new products or services must be aligned to an overall strategy for the business. 

They noted that different degrees of innovation bring varying levels of risk and suggested that business leaders ask: 

  • How much investment is required?  
  • How will the market respond?  
  • How will it affect the bottom line?  
  • How will employees react?  

They understood that the more ‘radical’ the innovation, the greater the change potentially required from staff. Change management has many implications for leadership and employee engagement. 

Innovation killers 

As delegates on our GAIN™ program, the seven business leaders explored the leadership of innovation within their businesses. In a masterclass, one of the country’s leading researchers on the subject, Professor Keith Goffin, suggested guarding against these ‘innovation-killers’ that stifle success: 

  • In or out of the box? 

Involving staff more widely, not just those in R&D, can capture insights from different parts of the customer journey. But simply asking people to ‘think outside the box’ is often ineffective. Some direction and clear goals are vital. 

  • Beware focus groups 

Market insight is important but be wary of over-reliance on customer focus groups. Not only can unintended bias slip in to the facilitation process, but customers don’t always behave in the way that they say they will, or they may have ‘hidden needs’ that they don’t express. Try to use a mix of research methods. 

  • Crunching the numbers 

When making investment decisions the Net Present Value (NPV) is a calculation of the income you expect to make in future from your innovations, compared to what you may earn from simply investing the R&D funds. Follow this too rigidly, however, and you may kill off the more radical breakthrough ideas before you’ve started. 

3 key components for successful innovation 

It’s incumbent on leaders, whatever size or sector of business, to ensure that:

1. an innovation process is set within a clear strategy

2. the culture is conducive to innovation

3. leadership skills are supported throughout the business. 

After GAIN™, all seven business leaders chose to do an MBA project which provided them the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge that they have acquired from LEAD™ - GOLD™ - GAIN™ programs and have their learning accredited. The project is organisation-based with a focus on innovation and/or creating sustainable competitive advantage. It is a great opportunity to work on a live leadership of innovation issue. The University of Gloucestershire is the awarding body for the Work Based Learning qualification - MBA (Leading Business). 

The projects focused on a range of areas highly relevant to each leader’s business. These included: 

  • Identifying the purpose of the company in changing industries and linking people’s every day actions to the purpose 
  • Improving customer service inside the business
  • Understanding what innovation meant inside a multi-site business and developing an overall innovation strategy to embrace the different good practices 
  • Strategic review of an industry to identify new opportunities 
  • Developing appropriate corporate governance 
  • Establishing an engaged culture in a fast growing business 

GAIN™ Cohorts 2 and 3 met at No.3 Restaurant that is led by LEAD™ Alumnus, Phil Vickery MBE DL who shared with his guests the innovations that he and his team have brought into the business.  

Dan Hodgson, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Prima Dental said, “It was my goal to have an MBA. The practical approach from LEAD™ - GOLD™ - GAIN™ and the immediate applied learning from those was most appropriate to me, my business and the development of both me and my business than traditional and executive taught MBA programs. I’d recommend this route to all ambitious businesspeople.” 

And Simon Kershaw, Managing Director of SK Refrigeration, Heating & Cooling added, GAIN™ strengthened the underlying purpose to why we lead and run our business. My MBA embedded a deeper purposeful focus for the business and challenged myself to achieve such a great award. It was a privilege to have been on this incredible journey from LEAD™ through GOLD™ and GAIN™ to the MBA! The QuoLux™ programs have been positive for my business and allowed myself to become a better leader.”

GAIN™ Cohort 3 also recently graduated and have begun working on their MBA projects. Emma Griffiths, CEO of Gloucestershire Counselling Services said, “The calibre of speakers at the GAIN™ Masterclasses was as to be expected of QuoLux™. This invaluable injection of expert knowledge made all the more richer by the quality of group discussion with peers in the Think Tank helped me to gain a better understanding of innovation and what it means to my organisation.”

GAIN Group 2

(L-R: Jo Draper, Director, QuoLux™; Louise Williams, Director, CPRE; Don Robins, Managing Director, Printwaste Recycling & Shredding; Emma Griffiths, CEO, Gloucestershire Counselling Services; Dr Stewart Barnes, CEO, QuoLux™)

Where to start? 

Every journey starts with a first step. With the country coming out of the final stage of lockdown and the next LEAD™ program starting in November, now is the time to take half an hour out to discuss your development needs with Dr Stewart Barnes and consider more deeply your future and the development of your business. Draw strength that this is a journey that over 300 business leaders have taken before you. You are not alone. You’ll be in good company. 



The QuoLux™ Blog brings leading insights to business leaders and managers, with models, tools and techniques that stimulate thinking and provide practical, actionable and valuable approaches. Topics include leadership, management, strategy, leading change, leading teams, employee engagement, Good Dividends and many more. Make it easy for yourself and subscribe to ensure you receive FREE articles like these.
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