Innovate? Ga op safari en zoek de brutale apen

25 October 2018

25 October 2018

Innovation is not an easy process, especially for sometimes somewhat closed family businesses. Léon Peters and Dirk Harm Eijssen, partners at consulting firm Gwynt therefore like to take them on a safari: getting inspiration in another company’s kitchen.

Seeing how change works in practice is instructive, gives depth, inspiration, insight and energy. Especially if it is not a marketing story. ‘We want to know how it really went down, including the basics,’ says Léon Peters. When he or his colleague Dirk Harm Eijssen have shown a family business that change is necessary (see also the previous article “A new generation makes change urgent,” they like to take the management team on a company safari. ‘We choose in advance a number of themes that are important to the company’s future strategy and visit companies that fit them.’

Multidisciplinary working

After the safari, they and the management team look at how to translate it to their own company. They formulate a common vision of the future and translate it into a strategy. ‘We then involve more employees in that, the greater the support, the greater the chance of actually implementing new ideas,’ says Léon Peters. Because innovation requires multidisciplinary work: contact between all departments, sales, marketing, engineering, product development and cooperation with outside parties. Pretty difficult for the often somewhat closed family businesses. “But only in this way can you develop new producers or services that will allow you to thrive in the changing times and stay ahead of the competition,” Dirk Harm argues.

Cheeky monkeys

An entrepreneurial, change-oriented culture is essential for innovation. Léon Peters: ‘A first or second generation of entrepreneurs will still sometimes say, ‘this is not who we are’ or ‘this is not how we do things here.’ I therefore believe that the new generation should use the opportunity to bring more dissenters into the organization. To speak in safari terms, a few cheeky monkeys will do the group good. For example, a director who is not from the family can help open up the culture, make talents visible and create a critical mass.

Moreover, he is a strong proponent of setting radical innovations apart from the rest of the company, or as one company in the food sector recently did: organize the innovation in another location. ‘They sought collaboration with food industry externs, hip chefs and food technologists on that site. A wave of ideas came out of it. It’s bold to start working on ideas far from the mother’s womb and works very well.’


To clarify the potential of the employees in the company, Dirk Harm likes to have management look at them in a different way. ‘We organize workshops with the different departments, put everyone together in a room. Inviting and taking (young) employees seriously often leads to new ideas, which is very motivating.’ Our experience is that there is often untapped potential in the organization. However, sometimes it turns out that employees in critical positions need to be replaced because they can no longer keep up with the rapidly changing times. “That’s painful, but to survive as a company, sometimes you have to make these kinds of difficult decisions,” Léon believes.

No trick

Family businesses are often averse to processes and procedures. And yet it is worthwhile to properly design and record the process of innovation. ‘If the process of innovation is well supported by effective change management, the structural change capacity of the organization grows with it,’ says Léon.

Tips for consideration

  • Remember that innovation may take time, may lead to mistakes or to a totally different outcome
  • Establish a dedicated department for innovation, or move it outside the company altogether
  • Innovation does not occur in a standard environment. Buy other office chairs, a foosball table and a speaker to blast fast beats through the building.
  • Directive leaders do not go well with innovation, give employees more ownership and include them in your dreams and ideas.

Author: Miloe van Beek, freelance journalist for Het Financieele Dagblad and Sprout, among others