Fast Company is the world's leading business media brand, with a unique focus on innovation in technology, leadership, and design. For more than a decade, it has been recognising outstanding achievement with different awards programmes across its areas of expertise.
With ‘Best Workplaces for Innovators’, Fast Company recognises companies that are successfully fostering cultures of innovation, where employees at all levels – not just top executives, computer scientists, or researchers – are encouraged to discover, explore, and invent. Fast Company partners with Accenture to create a series of questions and metrics designed to objectively evaluate the role innovation plays in company culture and measure its effect on operations and performance.
Each of the 865 submissions for the 2020 Best Workplaces for Innovators was individually evaluated by a team of Fast Company editors and Accenture researchers. Finalists were reviewed by a panel of judges (editors, renowned business leaders and innovators at Harvard, Wharton, Accenture, etc.) who then chose the 100 winners.
Winning such a prestigious award – especially as the only Belgian company alongside giants and innovation powerhouses like Google, JnJ, Amazon, Slack, Pepsico, Shopify, Intel and Salesforce – makes us glow with pride. It shows us, and the world, that it’s possible to achieve great things even when you’re not the biggest, and it makes us even more excited about our future.
We’d like to tell you more about how we maintain our culture of innovation and why this matters to you as a (future) client, November Five family member or a fellow business that’s focused on impact, not size.
Evolving from app developer to strategic digital delivery partner
At record pace, digitalisation has gone from being seen as a gimmick to being a core priority for organisations across industries and across the globe. So much so, that for many companies, their digital strategy is a key way to gain or extend their competitive advantage.
However, even for those companies that succeed at engraining digital in their DNA, attracting the right digital talent remains an uphill battle. When they do succeed in hiring a top digital change-maker, they often find out the hard way that individuals alone can’t make the difference in a fast-paced digital world. This is why many organisations still rely on external partners - like November Five - to give them the concrete, digitally-enabled answers they need to tackle to critical business challenges.
By anticipating the potential of digital, and creating a nimble ecosystem of complementary skillsets, we have transformed November Five in little over a decade from trendy app developer to the strategic digital partner our clients were craving.
Today, we work with clients like Spotify, Coca-Cola, Vanbreda Risk & Benefits, VRT, Telenet, Proximus, Toyota and many others to help them leverage digital to sharpen their competitive edge. We’ve established ourselves as a partner that speaks their business’ language, brings an outside-in perspective, sees digital as an enabler and not as the solution itself, and who understands that off-the-shelf solutions will not be enough to differentiate our clients from their competitors.
What best-in-class clients and top talent have in common
Over the years of building November Five into a valued strategic partner, we’ve started to recognise the similarities in mindset between our best-in-class clients and our top talent.
Just like our clients, exceptional talent looks to solve issues that matter. They seek to learn from a diverse group of people and experiences, and they want to leverage their knowledge beyond what is required to maintain the status quo. They want to make a difference, and don’t shy away from the effort or courage it takes to do so.
What we notice too, especially with our top talent, is that their qualities are amplified when they are surrounded by others who have a similar outlook and drive. Which is why we cultivate and nurture a highly diverse ecosystem that quite literally feeds and nourishes that talent.
Today, November Five gathers its close-knit family from a wide variety of backgrounds – from large corporates to start-ups, with expertise from corporate development to cloud engineering, from established spare time musicians to furniture makers, whatever their age or gender. All seeking impact, and with collaboration, professionalism and digital at their heart.
It’s with the goal of attracting this outstanding, innovative talent across business, engineering and design, that we continuously invest in creating a highly attractive and inviting workplace. For this, we measure ourselves against the big names because that’s who our people and our clients are measuring us against.
Knowledge is our lifeblood …
At November Five, we consider knowledge to be the lifeblood of our organisation. But more important than just ‘hard’ knowledge – which is easier than ever to acquire – is the ability to apply that knowledge in relevant and exciting ways. It’s honing this ability that helps us grow as individuals and as a company.
One way we nurture this growth is by having a flat and very fluid organisational structure with many structural opportunities for knowledge-sharing between domains. End-to-end client delivery teams in turn ensure our people have a front-row seat to see, understand and appreciate the full impact of our work with clients.
As well as growing and learning together, we strongly believe in individual growth, guided by the most suitable coaches from our network. Our coaches – ranging from top sports psychologists to senior ex-executives in technology, sales and strategy – not only improve individual performance but also make our diverse group even more capable of exchanging knowledge and experience with each other and with our clients.
… with impact and opportunity - not sneakers & ping-pong - driving us forward
Using a specific technology is never a goal in itself for November Five. Instead, we focus on achieving the right impact at the right time for our clients.
Through our in-depth understanding of technology as well as business, we can identify how digital can play a crucial role in tackling the most diverse business challenges our clients are facing. The methodologies we have developed and fine-tuned in-house then guide us towards implementing innovative, tailor-made solutions. By focusing on the problem to be solved, rather than trying to adapt an off-the-shelf, ‘one-size-fits no-one’ solution, we are constantly expanding the opportunities we offer our own people and our clients.
It’s this kind of outside-the-box thinking that have also led us to develop three active and successful ventures (Gorilla, Spencer and Appmiral), in addition to two successful exits and the inevitable early miss. These complete our diverse ecosystem.
Our blend of services and ventures enables our people and clients to work as, and with, a truly entrepreneurial team that has hands-on, real-world experience. If and when they spot a way to explore and develop a new idea that has real potential, we make sure they feel able to seize that opportunity. Often together with a client, and always with the full support of our entire ecosystem.
Deep connections within our nimble ecosystem enable us to stay ahead of the heavyweights
What we might lack in size, we make up for in our ability to predict and stay ahead of the storms. At November Five, we all share the responsibility for actively reinventing and improving through a culture of utter transparency, conscious inclusiveness and continuous feedback. We apply this not only among colleagues, but just as much with our clients. And in fact, we’re proud to say that many of our longest-standing clients have contributed to our growth far beyond the projects we embarked on together.
Our leadership team complements this with strategic choices that are based on the input gathered throughout our ecosystem, via many channels such as one-to-ones, ‘meet-ups’ and team retrospectives. They also help reinforce our zero-tolerance policy for maintaining the status quo or for any sense of false entitlement.
So how do we manage to navigate the digital waters more efficiently and effectively than many of our larger-scale colleagues? We put this down to the pace at which we can easily acquire outside-in intelligence throughout all levels of our ecosystem, and our organisation’s ability to act fast and seize opportunities.
This goes to show that, more than ever, small, highly connected ecosystems can rival the companies they have looked up to for many years.
If they can compete for the same talent, they can likely make a similar impact. Maybe not by rolling the big rocks, but by laying out the right pebbles that can make big rocks move.