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Successful innovative manufacturing businesses often practice Technology Transfer - taking good ideas through to tangible products and technologies people actually want. In order to undertake this successfully and repeatedly, small manufacturers require employees able to speak the languages of both technology and business.
Within the organisation you need staff with deep engineering and technical skills, who can appreciate strategy, marketing and finance. Likewise, board members and senior managers need a strong comprehension of how technology is at the heart of the business and is crucial for its long term success.
A mutual appreciation such as this is more likely to deliver decisions based on long term, rather short term gains. In addition, innovative R&D activities that deliver commercially viable results are far more likely if employees possess both technical and commercial skills. Therefore, there is a strong case for the professional development of senior technical staff to involve complimentary commercial skills (see Engineering Leadership and Management). Specifically, these may include skills in:
The ability to compete successfully, both nationally and internationally, depends on the ability to exploit innovation and R&D. Small manufacturers more than anybody, simply haven’t got the people to have separate departments for all these different functions. Therefore, it’s necessary for individuals, certainly senior technical staff, to have a strong commercial appreciation, based on the knowledge and skills listed above.
Bearing this in mind, professional development is clearly linked to innovation and R&D planning for small manufacturers. Raising the commercial skills and business awareness of senior technical employees, should be an integral part of your staff training and small business objectives. Commitment, time and budgets, should be prioritised accordingly. Finally, as is the case with all training, it should be possible to state what the impact will be (with specific actions) or has been (if reviewing after a period of time).
A Manufacturing Business with a Good Commercial Outlook and Understanding
Innovation: Who’s Responsible?
As mentioned above, innovation should be encouraged and practiced by all within the business. Small manufacturers need all employees to be thinking about new improved ways of doing things. Both big and small ideas are welcome. However, from a practical point of view, to drive innovation and encourage innovative thinking, a useful idea is to give one person the ultimate responsibility for innovation across your business.
Ideally a capable manager with the clout to make things happen, the Innovation Champion should be a positive persuasive character. They should be empowered to facilitate and challenge the status quo.
They should undertake relevant training and personal development to enable them to inform and train others. They should be expert at selling the practical, tactical advantages of innovative thinking to employees, as well as articulating the strategic competitive advantages for the business, at a high level.
The Innovation Business Champion should aim to draw up a plan or strategy, outlining how innovation will be used throughput the business. This should encompass overtly innovative activities such as R&D projects and new product development.
In addition, softer innovation topics should also be planned for. These may include internal innovation workshops and communications, as well as encouraging suggestions for new improvements to products, processes and services. Importantly, the role includes promoting a positive innovative mind-set among employees by highlighting its advantages, through examples relevant to their work.
The competitive advantage of innovative manufacturers are well documented throughout various industry sectors – they can’t all be wrong! The challenge for small manufacturers is how to embed innovation within their businesses and ultimately commercially benefit from it. The ideas above provide you with a sound foundation to start your journey, or build on what you’ve got. As national and global competition increases, and trading conditions become tougher, your long term future may well depend on it.
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