Booth Welsh is a medium-sized engineering services company located in Ayrshire. Together with eight other enterprises, the company joined a workplace innovation development programme in 2017 supported by Scotland’s major economic development agency.
As part of the programme, the company surveyed its entire workforce to measure the extent to which they experienced organisational practices associated with The Essential Fifth Element. The Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® asks employees questions relating to 49 specific workplace practices, each strongly associated with both high performance and high quality of working life; respondents are also asked a further set of questions relating to well-being and engagement. Results are broken down by team, department, site and professional group depending on the specific requirements of each company.
Booth Welsh’s results confirmed earlier suspicions that, whilst employees were committed to their own areas of work, they were disengaged to a significant extent from the wider company and its strategic direction. The findings were of particular concern to the company’s senior leadership, which recognised the importance of harnessing staff engagement and innovation potential in order to give Booth Welsh a competitive lead, particularly in respect of emerging digital technologies.
A time out session for all company managers facilitated by Workplace Innovation Europe’s team analysed the results and came to some far-reaching conclusions. Company strategy should be seen not just as a means of guiding the business but of harnessing creativity and leadership potential currently underutilised within the workforce.
The first step was to communicate Booth Welsh’s strategic priorities more effectively, resulting in the identification of four ‘Pillars’:
The Pillars were communicated to the workforce not as a fait accompli but as a challenge. Booth Welsh’s Managing Director was explicit in his discussions with staff: the company’s strategy could not be developed or delivered by the senior team alone but required the knowledge, talent and creativity of everyone. Moreover ‘strategy’ was to be an iterative process based on experimentation and shared learning rather than a one-off effort. In practice, this took the form of an open invitation to all members of staff to lead or to be involved in a working group, project or initiative associated with one or more Pillars. Company-wide dialogue also ensured alignment across the Pillars.
Around one half of staff volunteer to be part of Pillar activities, which have become an important vehicle both for engagement and for idea generation – and this was reflected in the results of a re-run of the Workplace Innovation Diagnostic® in 2020. In essence, whilst ultimate responsibility remains at board level, it means that strategic leadership is becoming embedded throughout the organisation and is no longer the sole prerogative of senior team members. For Martin Welsh, as Booth Welsh’s MD, the journey from 2017 has involved a considerable change in mindset and a willingness to embrace quite different leadership attributes.
This table demonstrates workplace innovation as an active enabler in achieving the organisation’s strategic goals and objectives, becoming an integral part of corporate strategy, helping align the entire organisation and its culture towards the acceptance and realisation of shared visions and values. Realising this vision in practice is enabling Booth Welsh to use and develop the knowledge, skills and creativity of its workforce to the full, achieving high performance, enhanced capacity for innovation, and employee engagement and well-being.