The Fifth Element: People Centred Change

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
  • Employee Driven Innovation & Improvement
  • Organisational Structures, Management & Processes
  • Co-Created Leadership & Employee Voice

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:

To summarise:

People are empowered to resolve problems themselves Job Design Theme
Team members support each other, share knowledge and skills, and solve issues together Self-Organised Teamworking Theme
Technology provides people with access to the information and control they need to anticipate and resolve issues People-Centred Technology Theme
There is an expectation that everyone will take the initiative when they see an opportunity to do so Enterprising Behaviour Theme
Continuous improvement is embedded in everyday working life Continuous Improvement Theme
Everyone contributes regularly to new thinking about products, services and processes High Involvement Innovation Theme
There are no silos and everyone is responsible for the product or service as a whole Organisational Structures Theme
Line managers bring out the best performance by coaching people and teams Management Roles & Behaviours Theme
Decision making is delegated to improve responsiveness and effectiveness Streamlining Systems Theme
Leaders are champions of empowerment Co-Created Leadership Theme
Decisions reflect the best possible range of knowledge and experience Employee Voice Theme

Achieving this requires tenacity. It means challenging deeply embedded attitudes and behaviours, asking difficult questions, and being open to diverse ideas and practices from a wide range of other organisations.

Research strongly supports a systemic approach to change and provides evidence that isolated change initiatives rarely achieve their anticipated results without the alignment of the other, interdependent workplace practices that exist at every level of the organisation. A Europe-wide study in 2002 showed that one of the biggest causes of failure in workplace innovation was “partial change” – a failure to recognise the extent of these interdependent practices. It is as though antibodies set out to attack the new and unfamiliar ideas that threaten established ways of doing things.

Each Element can provide the starting point for transformation. Yet wherever you begin, the eventual journey will involve the critical examination and alignment of every aspect of working practice and culture throughout the organisation.

As we described in the Introduction to Workplace Innovation, workplace innovation is a dynamic process without an end point. It starts with the introduction of workplace practices (as described in each of the four Elements) that empower people to think and act creatively, building reflection and experimentation into day-to-day working life as individuals, teams or cross-functional forums.

We describe this process as People-Centred Change, a practical approach that will help you to introduce and embed workplace innovation through your Action Plans. People-Centred Change is described in the following section.

Complete all objectives in this section:

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