Employee Driven Innovation and Improvement

Innovation is popularly associated with R&D, ICT investment and high-profile entrepreneurs.

However this association can be misleading. Much of the innovation in products, services and processes that leads to enhanced business competitiveness and performance is generated by interaction, dialogue and exploration within the workplace. Unsurprisingly this is more common in workplaces where employees have greater control over their own work coupled with discretionary opportunities for learning and problem solving.

Systematic opportunities for shared learning and reflection are well embedded in these workplaces. It means the ability of employees at every level to reflect on what has gone well and what can be improved in the future, to share knowledge and skills gained in the course of recent work experience, and to anticipate and reflect on the impacts of future challenges and change. This can be reflected in times and spaces where people at work can discuss ideas with their co-workers or in their team meetings. Buzz boards enable ideas to be shared and dedicated spaces can enable people to think in different ways together. Meetings in cafés can offer a creative and reflective time away from the immediate pressures of the workplace.

A growing number of organisations provide employees with regular experience of cross- functional improvement teams, created to identify and drive forward product , service or process changes that would otherwise be lost under the pressure of day-to-day workloads.

Sometimes it involves imaginative opportunities to ‘think out of the box’ by bringing people together across different departments and divisions to share knowledge and experience, and to think creatively. It can be as simple as establishing regular forums that enable people at all levels of an organisation to leave job titles and hierarchies behind, and to explore new ideas through open and free-thinking discussion. Time-out sessions, ‘down-tools weeks’ and hackathons, bringing people together who otherwise wouldn’t meet, can also become fountains of constructive dialogue and creativity.

Sustainable and effective employee engagement in innovation and improvement cannot happen in isolation. It must be aligned with corporate strategy and play a core role in its implementation, bringing together the strategic perspective of senior teams with the tacit knowledge and experience of frontline workers. It must be driven from the top and reinforced by consistent messages from leaders, supported by organisational structures and processes, and underpinned by empowerment and discretion in day-to-day working life. Line management culture and performance measurement also invariably play a critical role in enabling, or inhibiting, employee-driven improvement and innovation.

Resources for Employee Driven Innovation and Improvement
Innocent – smoothie makers
Red Gate Software

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