Are You as Innovative as the Public Sector? – Henry Stewart, Happy Ltd

In: BlogDate: Aug 05, 2016By: Claire Lickman

Find out how GCHQ used pre-approval to encourage innovation and improve their workplace in this two minute video with Henry Stewart.


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Are you as innovative as the Public Sector?

I put that title in particular when I’m talking at a private sector conference because you ask them “Are you as innovative as the public sector?” and they all go “Oh, of course we are!” and then I tell them this story about how GCHQ has been using these kinds of principles.

Somebody from GCHQ came to one of my talks and loved the idea of pre-approval. Everybody know pre-approval? The idea that you approve the solution before the person has thought of it.

So they started implementing that, but what I love is what they did with it next: they decided they needed more innovation – GCHQ needs to be at the forefront of innovation. So they persuaded their managers to give them a technology fund of a million pounds – it’s a big organisation, they need a lot of innovation – and they then set up a crowdfunder site where people could say, I want £500, or £300, or £5,000, or £10,000, for this idea, or that idea, or another idea.

So that’s quite innovative already, but what would normally happen with those ideas? They’d go up to senior management to decide, wouldn’t they?

At GCHQ what they did with them is they divided that million pounds into 100 batches of £10,000 and gave it to the most junior members of staff to decide how to invest it. The rule was they had to have never managed a budget and never managed people and then they could have £10,000 to allocate across whatever innovation they wanted.

And imagine the effect of that; either you give innovation to the people that have been in their job for 40 years as senior managers, or you give it to the people at the front line who are probably in touch with all the latest social media thing – it’s a completely different effect.

Now you may not have a million pounds to invest in your organisation, but it’s a principle that many people could use.

Henry Stewart is founder and Chief Executive of Happy Ltd. Happy has been rated the best company in the UK for customer service by Management Today, one of the Top 20 Workplaces in the UK for 5 successive years (Financial TImes / Great Place to Work Institute), and is one of the world’s most democratic workplaces. Happy now helps other organisations to create happy workplaces. You can talk to him on Twitter at @happyhenry.

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Claire Lickman

Claire is Head of Marketing at Happy. She has worked at Happy since 2016, and is responsible for Happy's marketing strategy, website, social media and more. Claire first heard about Happy in 2012 when she attended a mix of IT and personal development courses. These courses were life-changing and she has been a fan of Happy ever since. She has a personal blog at

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