Having worked in the “innovation” space for nearly three years, I have read loads of content, gone to conferences, watched TED talks and discussed what it means to individuals and their organisations quite extensively. In all of these discussions, we’ve never really talked about innovation specifically related to managing people.

From my learnings, I’ve defined innovation for me, as a Director of people, as making inclusive changes to drive revenue and creating a welcoming place of work for my millennial team.

What is it to practice EveryDay innovation as a business development manager?

My team is predominantly made up of graduates in their first or second job. A lazy way of management is thinking I know more than them, therefor teaching them the way things work and not asking for feedback or ideas. A complete top-down approach is not for me. When we struggle with generating enough qualified meetings for sales closers, have internal issues with other colleagues or when the team wants more training – I use a challenge-based approach to ask for their ideas on how to solve a particular problem. We take complaints or challenges and generate ideas to find solutions. I’ve found that empowering the team to talk to me openly about their daily work and life challenges, has created a collaborative workspace where they aren’t afraid to share their opinions but have been coached to be solution-gatherers rather than complainers.

Career development as a challenge-based approach

How has this shaped the group? I ran a challenge to the team requesting topics they wanted more training on for career development and a deeper understanding of Wazoku. After evaluating the ideas – I brought it back to a group discussion– asking for more specific information about the suggestions and which topics they’d prioritise first. Our training runs every Wednesday for 90 minutes. Each week, we cover a topic of their choice, in a manor they’ve recommended (i.e. practice/roleplay/etc). These trainings have helped to bring the team together but also get their buy-in for their own learning and development, which thus furthers their success at Wazoku (booking more qualified new business meetings).

In addition to training, I’ve found that graduates and young professionals require a clear path to promotion or direction for their careers. The interesting thing about change in management is often the manager creates the paths and guides employees onwards BUT a more innovative way of looking at it with my team, was to get their ideas on their own paths. Because we work in a scale-up business, we can be agile enough to accommodate the wishes of strong employees. After receiving staff ideas for career progression and development, I asked them to create a full business plan on how to implement their process into the business, what training they’d require and how their bonuses would be impacted.

I was pleasantly surprised with the business case in that the team wasn’t asking for the world but was fully bought into driving more revenue for the business with the perfect marriage of their own career development. This is not mind-blowing change to the business but what it brings is a collaborative way to develop and manage my team- which also benefits the greater end goal of higher staff retention and increasing revenue for the business. So far, I have to say – I prefer the collaborative and innovation-infused approach to management, as does the team.

Career development with an innovation-led management approach

One example of success in an innovation-led management approach is one member of my team, having been with the business for 12 months, (considering the average lifespan of a Business Development Representative is 12-18 months), mentioned feeling tired of the role and wanting different challenges. In our coaching sessions, I asked for ideas on what strengths of theirs they’d like to play to and work with in their career. I also asked for feedback on how I could coach them and drive their learning in their personal growth. In these sessions, one person on my team mentioned she wanted to work in project management, wanted to work more with customers and develop further in the customer lifecycle (managing our customer onboarding rather than prospecting). We worked together to review what that would look like for her as a career choice, thinking about the outcomes she wanted to deliver and what she wanted the business to deliver to her. Following our discussions, I worked with her and other leaders in the business to create the path she designed – helping to retain great talent for our business and helping to further her career. My personal gain in this is to help an individual develop professionally and the business retained a great staff member who will develop and grow with us as we scale.

Innovating as a manager, to me, has meant managing each person differently, taking on ideas and feedback and allowing the members of my team to have enough autonomy to solve our sales-team business challenges.

Without the voices and ideas of my team, I would be incredibly unsuccessful.