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Brexit – an opportunity for R&D?

David Hughes

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The good news is that recent surveys among UK business leaders continue to show that innovation is seen as a key factor in business success.  They believe that innovation is the source of higher profits and growth, greater competitiveness and a means to engage the whole workforce in the company aims.

While recognising that innovation pays off and improves performance, the uncertainty around Brexit and the perceived challenging economic climate means that innovation is often stalled.  Indications are that this is impacting R&D programmes with innovation spend on a declining path attributed to lack of investment and focus on near term profit.  However, based on experience following the recent financial crisis and recession, Brexit presents a great opportunity to outperform hesitant competitors with new creative ideas that have the potential to change the game.

The dilemma facing senior leadership teams is how to ensure that in focusing the innovation effort they do not jeopardise the innovative capacity of the company after whatever the result of Brexit.  Just battening down the hatches is unlikely to support a growth strategy and motivate the development teams.  So how can we achieve more with less in this environment? There are two simple questions that can provide answers:  

  • First question – is the whole organisation engaged in innovation? Is it the work of every employee, every day?  Executives who ask that question soon realise that most of their employees have little awareness in the innovation strategy and their role in delivering it.     A crucial role therefore for management is to provide the environment and support to enable the whole organisation to deliver innovation goals.  One way to get a fix on how innovation ready the organisation is, is to use the recently published work of Phadke & Shailendra in their book, The Scale-up Manual: Handbook for Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Teams and Firms.  The book provides a unified approach to manage the creation and commercialisation of innovative products and services, and supports different strategies for resource allocation.  The Manual includes many case studies and insights, which different 'Actors' can use at different points along the commercialisation journey.
  •  Second question – are we doing the right things at the right pace to be competitive?  This involves aligning the innovation strategy to key business activity, sustaining organisation capacity and focusing on future opportunities. It starts with a full analysis of customer needs and then reviewing how well these needs are met by competitor and own offerings.  Unmet needs which are important to the customer represent fertile ground for innovation and if solutions are found will enhance customer loyalty for many years ahead.  The next step is to understand what capability exists in house and what could be more effectively sourced outside the company.

The winners after Brexit will be those who see it as an opportunity not a threat and develop innovative strategies for innovation!