How to win a Queen's Award for innovation

Winning a Queens Award for innovation was only partly down to developing the product which caught the judges attention, according to Ground Control managing director Marcus Watson.

Ground Control: having innovative ideas comes from developing staff
Ground Control: having innovative ideas comes from developing staff

Outlining his business strategy Watson said the award, which the company received this month, was the result of "40 years of hard work" building company culture and developing technology.

The judges recognised the positive effect the national grounds maintenance contractor's application of technology had on servicing its customers, including live reporting systems that enable the company to respond rapidly to evolving demands.

Watson said it was the company's focus on recruiting and retaining the best talent that provided the space for innovation: "It's easy these days to just think innovation is just IT. The innovation for us is how can we make things better? Sometimes it's a case of turning some things on their heads."

One case study which formed part of the award entry was Ground Control's winter gritting service, which, Watson said, predicts what teams will be needed at various sites around the country with a high degree of accuracy.

"At 8am you don't know the weather, but by 6pm you have got to start working. You have a very narrow window and you don't have margin for error. One night you might need 12 teams, the next 600."

Ground Control uses a direct feed from the Met Office, which comes through at 9am and IT which analyses each customer's risk profile and cross references that with the weather forecast.

"By 10am we know which sites need gritting, it's about making sure absolutely everything is in place. By 6am everything is done. I believe there is nobody better than this in the world," Watson said.

Having innovative ideas comes from developing staff. Jay Hancock, for example, started off as a deputy head gardener at the Tower of London and rose through the ranks to become winter maintenance director, in charge of the gritting innovation. It was because he had started off at grass roots that he understood what was needed at a strategic level, Watson said. When the company recruits it aims to see candidates as customers. "We want to make sure we understand each other's wants and desires so hires become much more solid."

Watson said that Ground Control, which has 45,000 sites across the UK, develops staff through the 'University of Ground Control' and programmes such as Friday 'Lunch and Learn' sessions where staff members are encouraged to train with a free pizza incentive. It also pays for employees' education.

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