Releasing Innovation Through Employee Engagement

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Investors in People, experts in the field of employee engagement, discuss their top methods for increasing innovation within their clients.

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It is imperative that an aspiring innovative company has a workforce that is able to innovate on its behalf.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”- Apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H. Duell of the US Patent Office.

Pleasingly, the above quote was never really uttered, and the vast rate of innovation and change has continued unabated through the 20th and 21st centuries. Current developments in healthcare, transport and IT would have been unthinkable only a decade ago, far less likely during the lifetime of Mr Duell (1850 – 1920). At the core of many successful businesses is the ability to develop a new business idea or utilise a current idea in a new way: innovation.

Understanding the need for innovation is far from a new concept. Consider the following quote:

“Our future progress and prosperity depend upon our ability to equal, if not surpass, other nations in the enlargement and advance of science, industry and commerce. To invention we must turn as one of the most powerful aids to the accomplishment of such a result.”

While this quote could easily have come from David Cameron or Barack Obama, it was stated by President William McKinley, President from 1897 until his death in 1901.

Drivers

There are many drivers for organisations to become more innovative and these include:

  • The bargaining power of suppliers
  • The bargaining power of customers
  • The threat of new entrants into the market
  • Links to the organisations values and strategy
  • Competitive rivalry within the sector

Having established the importance and necessity for an organisation to be innovative within their sector comes the hard part – being innovative.

When considered, there is now very little differential between organisations that sell similar products or services due to high levels of competition. The internet and telecommunications have made the globe very small, while start-up businesses can be run from a bedroom or garage. The only thing that each company has that another does not, is their workforce.

As such, it is imperative that an aspiring innovative company has a workforce that is able to innovate on their behalf. But to have employees that are willing and able to innovate, it is also necessary that they are engaged with their employers values and vision. There is a direct correlation between organisations that have more engaged employees and those that are more innovative.

A Case Study in Innovation

The Australian firm Atlassian decided that it required enhanced levels of innovation from its employees in order to retain the creativity of a start-up even as it grew rapidly. As a result, the company directors decided to nominate one day a month for employees to work on any project, with anyone, that they wished, as long as it was not their regular job role. These “innovation days” became to be called “ShipIt Days” because the employees had to present their work the next day which would often involve delivering something overnight. The days were a massive success and have now been copied and replicated all over the globe.

What can we do to Create a Climate for Innovation?

  • Design spaces where people can get away from their desks. This may involve the creation of ”focus areas” where employees can concentrate on their work.
  • Create opportunities for employees to run ideas past others with the same interests.
  • Experience of where you are trying to innovate can be more effective than research. Utilise the experience of your team to create something new.
  • Safe spaces should be considered whereby controversial or different ideas can be researched.
  • Utilise outsiders who have no agenda to push to offer fresh perspectives.
  • Avoid “groupthink” by working individually or in very diverse teams.
  • Innovation happens when there is least pressure on the group or individual. Avoid targets or goal setting in order that it may occur naturally.
  • Utilise the skills and know-how of external stakeholders, customers and suppliers. They will want your business to thrive and may have insights not already seen.

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Kenny Pattie

Kenny Pattie
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