Workplace Innovation – it is not a leap in the dark

Neil Devons
Workplace Innovation Europe CLG

I often read that the vast majority of smart phone users only use a fraction of the device’s capability making it an expensive investment if the potential of its functionality is not exploited.

The same is true of many businesses who have a wonderful resource in knowledgeable and highly capable staff but fail to provide the workplace environment or the employee voice that taps into this potential and so miss out on the huge benefits that can be derived – enhanced performance, increased productivity, improved motivation and greater employee well-being.

Motivation is not just the results of tangible workplace benefits. As the MD of an Aberdeen-based engineering company told us:

“People aren’t going to wake up on a Monday morning and think: ‘great, there’ll be a bowl of fruit when I get to work!’”

It is more about awakening creativity and engendering the idea that employees can make a contribution, will be listened to and good ideas acted upon.

In the face of the huge economic, social and emotional challenges we are now undergoing, businesses must realise that senior teams cannot achieve sustainable change alone without the impetus of harnessing the creativity, insights and engagement of the entire workforce. But that means challenging some deeply embedded practices.

This is the role that introducing workplace innovation practices can play

The concept (first named by Peter Totterdill of Workplace Innovation Europe CLG and Stephen Dhondt of TNO in the Netherlands) emerged at the beginning of the present century as a systemic and dynamic view of organisations and organisational change. It recognises that attempts to improve organisational performance or working life are likely to be futile unless a company aligns its work organisation, systems, procedures, management behaviours, organisational structure, corporate values and leadership towards the same ends. In this paradigm, organisations are seen as systems of interdependent and continually changing parts.

Easy to say but making wholesale change is a bit daunting for senior teams who cut their managerial teeth in traditional organisational methods and hierarchies. However, Workplace Innovation is no leap in the dark. It is supported by in-depth research and a wealth of practical examples from entrepreneurial businesses and innovators from the UK and across Europe who are willing to share their experiences.

So where do you start?

Firstly, you’ll be open to new ideas, workplace practices and cultures which enable employees at all levels to use their knowledge, competences and creativity to the full. Workplace Innovation builds working environments in which people come to work to undertake their functional tasks in the most effective way possible and to improve the organisation both organisational performance and employee engagement and well-being.

Reviews of best practice also demonstrate that high performance and good work are mutually supportive and not a trade-off. As well as enhancing business performance, empowering work practices increasing employee motivation and well-being, it plays a particularly important role in reducing stress, enhancing job satisfaction and mental health, reducing absenteeism and improving retention.

In terms of change, we are not talking of the baby and the bathwater syndrome but changing what isn’t working and enhancing what is. The means to do this is the Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® which is no mere employee engagement survey but an in-depth x-ray of an organisation’s functionality rather than a snapshot. It measures employee experience against evidence-based working practices associated with enhanced capacity for innovation as well as improved productivity, health and engagement, and provides a clear and very practical starting point for effective change. (Please take a moment to look at our short case study of how the Diagnostic helped build a culture of innovation at engineering services company Booth Welsh.)

The Diagnostic also provides a platform on which to build a practical action plan which identifies target areas and provides guidance on implementation and sustainability and can be reviewed or repeated on a regular basis to see how workplace practices are changing and used as a benchmark for comparing the experiences of other businesses.

The action plan will often be accompanied by In-house coaching, facilitation and support from WIE to provide the knowledge, skills and practical resources required to drive forward effective and sustainable change and leading to an ILM qualification.

Learning from others

Our Fresh Think Labs (FTL) is the international open source movement for workplace innovation and an ideal networking pathway to the best workplace practices and latest thinking from across Europe and beyond. FTL combines state of the art online interactions with in-person opportunities for knowledge sharing with leading practitioners and thinkers.

It also offers access to a unique online resource portfolio including research evidence, practical tools, and a vast database of Europe-wide case studies curated by Workplace Innovation Europe CLG (WIE) which gives all participating businesses the opportunity of exploring alternative ways of working that are successful and sustainable.

Creating high performing organisations and great places to work

Even the most traditionally entrenched manager will be impressed by the evidence, and I stress evidence, that companies who systematically adopt workplace innovation practices enabling all employees to use and develop their skills, knowledge, experience and creativity to the full, benefit from a 20-60% improvements across a wide range of business indicators, from productivity and innovation to employee health and well-being. What’s not to like?

In short, Workplace Innovation makes best use of everyone’s skills, ideas and energies. Ultimately, it’s about the whole organisation pulling in the same direction with all employees fully engaged in the business.

This employee-driven improvement and innovation is focussed on a number of interlocking organisational imperatives – good job design, self-managed team working, human-centred technologies, flatter organisational structures, coaching styles of management, trust-based systems and processes, employee voice in decision-making and co-created leadership. This is a powerful bundle that cannot happen without empowering employees.

What we do

Our role at WIE is to provide people with the knowledge, skills and practical support to deliver effective and sustainable change.

We work with leading international universities and research institutes and a wide range of private and public sector organisations to capture and analyse leading practice turning it into practical tools for companies with bespoke support to help them build it into their business model and day-to-day operations. This includes connecting them to other companies who are using workplace innovation practices providing valuable peer-to-peer learning opportunities and support. We are also an accredited provider for the Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM), and offer Programmes and Short Courses that provide people with the knowledge, skills and practical support they need to be effective change leaders.

We help companies to unlock previously untapped capabilities and help create amazing workplaces.

Now, where’s my smart phone and does it have an app that does the washing up?

Workplace Innovation – What’s it all about … in 2.30 minutes! You can view the video here.

The Essential Fifth Element Guide to Workplace Innovationwatch our acclaimed animation and join the thousands who have shared it with colleagues (just over 4mins!)

The Workplace Innovation Short Diagnostic. Our free taster version of the Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® addresses twelve of the workplace practices associated with high performance and employee engagement. On completion you will receive a short report and recommendations, and you can contact us to explore your results in more detail. Use it with your teams and then repeat it to see what improvements you have made! Try it here.

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