Workplace Innovation as a Continuous Process and a System of Interdependent Parts
Workplace innovation is a process, not a one-off. The more you introduce workplace practices that involve people in decision-making and idea generation, the closer you move towards a sustainable momentum of workplace innovation in which continual hunger for better ways of working permeates everyone’s job. Each phase of workplace innovation generates shared learning and extends the horizon of possibilities.
What are the mechanisms that drive this sustainable momentum? Embedding workplace innovation as a continuous process means installing robust approaches to shared learning and critical reflection, and a willingness to challenge everything from tools and techniques to fundamental assumptions underpinning the business model.
In this People-Centred Change section of The Fifth Element Module, we’ve charted the journey from absorbing the organisation’s external context to framing, delivering and reviewing Action Plans. While this looks like a step-by-step process, by its very nature the learning, dialogue and engagement that goes with workplace innovation ensures that each stage will be revisited and reconsidered with increasing frequency.
This figure captures both the linearity and the reflexive nature of the workplace innovation journey. The development of your first Workplace Innovation Action Plan will be based on linear progression from Context to Action and (we hope) a Result, but before this is achieved it will already be time to test the intended outcome against previous stages of the process – perhaps because of fast-moving developments in the external environment and also because knowledge, understanding and aspirations will also have been raised during the process.
The Four Feedbacks (4Fs)
F1 Have agreed Actions been implemented in the best possible way, using effective methods and sufficient levels of participation and empowerment? Have unanticipated obstacles been encountered that required new or refined approaches, or wider engagement?
F2 Does the learning created and shared during the change journey require a reframing of the original Actions? Do other organisational practices (‘Interdependencies’) need to be addressed in order to make the changes effective and sustainable?
F3 Having delivered the original Actions, how can you take enhanced performance, capacity for innovation and quality of working life to the next level? Initial Actions may have targeted relatively quick wins, but are the real gains to be achieved by a more ambitious Vision involving fundamental organisational redesign for workforce upskilling and empowerment?
F4 Does the Action Plan still represent an effective response to external drivers such as global market trends, technological innovation or competitors? Absorptiveness, strategic thinking and responsiveness need to permeate the entire organisation if it is to stay ahead of the game.
Workplace innovation as a continuous, embedded process can become everyone’s responsibility – and we’ve seen many organisations where people come to work every day to improve the business as well as to undertake their normal tasks. It is built on a recognition that the best ideas can come from anyone when you value the force of the better argument – no matter where it comes from.
In summary, maintaining the momentum of workplace innovation (including the 4Fs) should be embedded in the modus operandi of:
- senior leaders as visible champions of the innovation culture, ensuring absorptiveness and productive reflection at board, line management and team levels;
- employee forums as the guardians of empowering workplace practices and employee-driven innovation;
- self-managed teams as fountains of innovation drawing on the tacit knowledge and experience of the workforce;
- empowered employees engaged in innovation-related behaviours.
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