Watch out for these 4 pitfalls for innovation in SMEs

Strategy & Innovation


Is your SME in the doldrums? You are longing for innovation, but none of your efforts seem to lead anywhere? To bring about innovation in an SME is not exactly easy, but it is possible you are unknowingly complicating things. Maybe you have fallen prey to one of these common pitfalls. Antwerp Management School can help you circumvent these stumbling blocks.


1. Conservative corporate culture

The most treacherous pitfall is a conservative corporate culture. A corporate culture that hinges on a strict hierarchy can be detrimental to innovation. Look at it this way: if lower ranked employees constantly have to report to their superiors, they will be less prone to take initiative and propose alternatives. This can restrict the circulation of ideas, as a result of which they will never flourish.

This is why it is important for SME’s to create an environment in which conversation is stimulated and employees feel flexible to think beyond their job description. The talent in the organisation has to be exploited to the full, and this is only possible if an open corporate culture is maintained.


2. Lack of cooperation

In accordance with the latter statement, it must be said that innovation is hindered in many SMEs due to a lack of internal cooperation. In many SMEs, the individual has to know a great number of things to adequately perform their job. Furthermore, a lot of SMEs are cautious when it comes to increasing staffing. As a result many staff members in the organization are expected to take up a massive workload. 

Since employees are used to taking great responsibility, it often becomes difficult for them to let go of this responsibility. By creating a climate in which conversation becomes possible, it becomes easier for employees to let go of parts of their responsibility and allow lower placed co-workers to take over certain  parts.

It is not only necessary to have enough well-educated people, it is also important to strive toward new forms of cooperation to maximize the knowledge within the organization.


3. Lack of time

The third problem that is often addressed as a cause for the lack of innovation is a lack of time. Because of the question of task allocation discussed above, one person is often overburdened, giving one the feeling that they can only work through their tasks without ever thinking out of the box.

Furthermore, it is difficult for co-workers in small businesses to give up control because they are often discouraged by the complications it might bring. Lack of time, in combination with a lack of adequately schooled employees, makes innovation extremely hard, perhaps even impossible.


4. Lack of long-term perspective 

Occasionally, SMEs have a tendency of working in the moment, thus only tackling problems as they present themselves. Because of considerable uncertainties, SMEs are often reluctant to make plans on the long run, but this also means that many SMEs suffer a lack of targeted planning. Few long-term goals are set. Instead, the plan ends up amounting to nothing more than a perpetuation of how things have always been.

This way of thinking is detrimental to innovation because you can get stuck in a conservative mindset, which brings us back to square one. The biggest problem, the rabbit hole leading to all other problems, seems to be the conservative corporate culture. A corporate culture which retains knowledge where it never becomes profitable, makes it difficult for co-workers to cooperate and nibbles away at what little time there is. It is, however, not easy to turn a corporate culture around swiftly.

Antwerp Management School is organizing a series of workshops concerning innovation in SMEs.