2.3 Workplace Innovation: Emotional Intelligence in Practice

Let’s consider further the type of organisation likely to be created by emotionally intelligent leaders and managers, and why this is important both for businesses and their employees.

Leaders in all types of organisation face unprecedented challenges in a world dominated by globalisation, rapid technological advances, demographic change, fast-shifting consumer demands and widespread uncertainty. The ability to reinvent products, services and processes continually is becoming essential for survival and success.

Innovation, productivity and engagement are being discussed everywhere. So why are they so difficult to achieve?

Leaders are responsible for aligning the whole organisation to a shared vision and strategy, and this is often the biggest challenge they face. Companies can easily accumulate a jumble of inadvertent practices, traditions, sub-cultures and interests. Inherited structures get in the way of the cross-functional collaboration needed to generate sustainable solutions and fresh thinking. Middle managers may act as a barrier reef, slowing the wave of change across the organisation as they defend their own areas of control.

Getting everyone to pull in the same direction can feel like an impossible challenge.

And employees, reputedly ‘our greatest asset’, then begin to feel disillusioned and start to disengage. There is never time to listen to their ideas for improvement or innovation. Or worse, they’re told to keep their heads down and not raise difficult issues.

How Emotional Intelligence helps

The previous sections of this short course emphasise the importance of emotional intelligence in respecting others, valuing their contributions and building trust – precisely those attributes needed by leaders if they are to engage their people constructively in adaptation and change.

Tackling pressing strategic challenges can’t be achieved with any success by senior teams alone: they need to harness the creativity, insights and engagement of their entire workforce. Leaders need to empower others to take the initiative, coaching and supporting them towards successful outcomes. They must become the champions of employee empowerment, participation and voice. And as we’ve seen in the previous section, this requires the confidence which comes from high self-regard and high regard for others.

The challenge for leaders is to take a systemic view of their own organisational structures and practices. Creating the culture of innovation and enterprise needed for twenty-first century challenges requires tenacity. It means confronting deeply embedded attitudes and behaviours, asking difficult questions, and being open to experiences from a diverse range of other organisations. It also means being prepared to listen, to challenge your own assumptions, and to recognise the force of the better argument – no matter who it comes from.

So what does an organisation based on trust and empowerment look like?

The key concept here is Workplace Innovation, an approach developed by our team and its European partners, and now shaping organisational change across the world.

Workplace Innovation describes workplace practices and cultures which enable employees at all levels to use their knowledge, competences and creativity to the full. It builds workplaces in which people come to work to undertake their functional tasks in the most effective way possible and to improve the organisation. Evidence shows that Workplace Innovation leads to significant and sustainable improvements in both organisational performance and employee engagement and well-being.

Various international surveys find a very clear link between workplace innovation and performance. Organisations adopting empowering, trust-based ways of working were more productive, had a greater capacity for product and service innovation, showed a much lower rate of personnel turnover and a lower rate of absence due to illness, compared with traditionally organised workplaces.

The Essential Fifth Element is a proven method for understanding and transforming the working practices that provide the meeting point between high performance and great jobs. The Essential Fifth Element concept highlights the interdependence between each bundle of workplace practices represented in four Elements, each representing a closely-linked bundle of workplace practices:

Jobs, Teams & Technology

  • individual job autonomy;
  • supportive, self-organised teams.

Employee Driven Innovation & Improvement

  • entrepreneurial behaviour at all levels;
  • regular opportunities for reflection, learning and improvement;
  • high involvement innovation.

Organisational Structures, Management & Processes

  • open and fluid organisational structures;
  • delegated decision-making;
  • simplified administrative procedures;
  • a coaching style of line management.

Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice

  • shared and distributed leadership;
  • employee participation in strategic decisions.

Each Element is influenced, for better or worse, by the extent to which it is aligned with the others. For example, self-managed teams are only effective when line managers focus on coaching rather than micro-management; likewise employee-driven innovation won’t really take off until individual and team performance metrics reflect the value of time spent on productive reflection and idea generation. Failure to align even one area of practice with the overall vision can too easily lead to ‘innovation decay’ – the gradual erosion of new ways of working.

When the four Elements are aligned with each other they create a system of mutually reinforcing parts that leads to a self-sustaining momentum of improvement and innovation – in short, the Fifth Element. It means that enterprising behaviour is supported by every aspect of work experience, and that looking for better ways of doing things becomes the new norm, blending the strategic knowledge and insights of senior teams with the practical knowledge and experience of frontline workers.

The Essential Fifth Element Guide to Workplace Innovation

The Essential Fifth Element is a unique approach, helping users to identify and implement positive organisational changes that increase productivity and enhance employee health and well-being.

Such outcomes are not the product of a simple initiative or a leadership development programme. Our team took a long look at some of the research, case study evidence and our own practical experiences of supporting and resourcing change in diverse organisations across Europe.

Watch our short animated film on The Essential Fifth Element

Grounded in extensive research and practical experience, The Essential Fifth Element explains the working practices that are becoming such a powerful force for innovation in a growing number of European companies and public sector organisations. It is the meeting point between high performance and great jobs.

It is widely accepted that employee engagement, and an organisational culture that promotes innovation and improvement, are strongly associated with high performance and healthy workplaces. Many organisations have made substantial investments in improving employee engagement, ranging from the use of engagement surveys to providing bowls of fruit, massage sessions or opportunities for charitable volunteering in work time.

But 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!’”

So let’s take a look at what really works.

Review the short Guide to Workplace Innovation  before moving on to the next section.



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