Supporting Workplace Innovation amongst SMEs in Bulgaria
Why Is It Important and How to Achieve It?
The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation which affected companies globally. Many saw their revenues drop, leading to decreased spending on innovation and investments with medium- and long-term return, such as providing learning opportunities and training for employees. Others, however, tackled the challenges of the crisis focusing on innovation practices which nurture employees’ potential, creativity and collaboration. This is what our research among Bulgarian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has confirmed. It has long been demonstrated that workplace innovation (WPI) enhances the innovative potential of companies. The current crisis has revealed how critical these practices are for improving companies’ resilience to adverse market conditions and tackling periods of transformation.
Our research was part of a project, called “Supporting workplace innovation among SMEs in Bulgaria: analysis and recommendations”, which was implemented between January and July 2021 with financial support provided by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project was to identify measures to support workplace innovation among SMEs in Bulgaria, as well as to increase societal awareness about the benefits of implementing such practices.
As part of the project, we conducted an online survey with 84 Bulgarian SMEs from different industries and regions. The results of the survey helped us identify companies which had successfully adopted WPI in their work processes. These enterprises were interviewed to get a closer look at the practices and what factors drove/hindered their implementation. The results revealed that the identified workplace innovations had already been implemented within the companies when the pandemic started. The companies had previously experimented with or had already established mechanisms and infrastructure for inducing employees’ engagement with decision-making processes (e.g. promoting vertical communication within the organisation), stimulating employees’ autonomy and creativity (e.g. creating self-organising teams), fostering their continuous learning and development, as well as cross-team collaboration (e.g. multi-functional teams). The COVID-19 crisis accelerated the pace of implementation and expanded the scope of these previously introduced practices, which were often in the heart of companies’ efforts to manage the consequences of the crisis. This observation points to the capacity of WPI to help companies adapt more successfully and in a timely manner to changes in the external environment, which makes them more resilient in the long run.
Despite the growing evidence about the benefits which WPI brings to companies, it has been a rather unknown concept in the country. Bulgaria has been among the EU member states with least percentage of companies which have implemented WPI-like practices. This has been demonstrated by a number of sources, incl. OECD (Lorenz, Edward, and Jonathan Potter. 2019) and Eurofound and Cedefop (Eurofound and Cedefop. 2020). Considering the role of WPI for stimulating the innovative potential of businesses, as well as their resilience to crises such as the one induced by COVID-19, promoting such practices among SMEs is critical for the stability and growth of the economy.
As part of the project, we formulated a number of policy recommendations for promoting WPI among SMEs in Bulgaria. They are based on the results of several consultations with relevant stakeholders, amongst which are representatives of a few ministries and other governmental bodies, non-governmental organisations, the academia, as well as SMEs. We summarise the proposed measures below.
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European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN)
EUWIN was established by the European Commission in 2013 and is now entirely supported by contributions from an international network of partners co-ordinated by HIVA (University of Leuven). EUWIN also functions as a network partner for the H2020 Beyond4.0 project.
Contact: Workplace Innovation Europe CLG (firstname.lastname@example.org).