2.1 – What is Workplace Innovation

Companies face unprecedented challenges in an economy dominated by globalisation, rapid technological advances, demographic change and fast-shifting consumer demands. The ability to reinvent products, services and processes continually is becoming essential for survival and success.

Tackling these challenges can’t be done by senior teams alone: they need to harness the creativity, insights and engagement of the 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.

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.

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

So what does a systemic organisational vision look like?

The key concept here is workplace innovation. It 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.

Our team and its international partners co-created workplace innovation as a concept and we’re delivering it in practical ways to organisations across Europe. Workplace innovation is spreading. It is part of the EU’s strategy for innovation and competitiveness, adopted by governments to boost economic growth and prosperity, and by companies across Europe.

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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