What’s it all about?

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 the high performing, innovative and engaging organisation look like?

In 2001, the European Commission requested a study designed to analyse evidence both from existing literature and from an international sample of more than one hundred private and public sector organisations, each characterised by high performance and high quality of working life. The Hi-Res study involved collaboration across eight EU countries and more than a hundred public and private sector enterprises across all sizes and sectors. Its aim was to discover the workplace practices that could create high performance, enhanced capacity for innovation and great places to work simultaneously.

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.

Drawing on the findings of the Hi-Res report and those of many subsequent studies, workplace innovation’s claim to be considered as a distinctive, robust yet practically-focused approach to organisational transformation can be summarised in ten propositions:

  1. It is part of a strategic choice, running through the organisation’s entire business model and underpinned by a long-term vision and perspectives, sustainability and ethics .
  2. Its strongly associated with the simultaneous achievement of high performance and high quality of working life – and contributing to wider society.
  3. Workplace innovation is separate from – but builds on – ‘fair work’ principles such as job security, living wage, equality & diversity, and opportunities for training and education.
  4. Leadership styles, culture, engagement and job satisfaction are not independent but are largely determined by work organisation and the structure of management and control.
  5. Workplace innovation is focused on workplace practices grounded in substantial research and case study evidence.
  6. It is a systemic approach, recognising the interdependence of job autonomy, self-managed teamworking principles, skills-enhancing technologies, employee-driven innovation, flexible organisational structures, empowering systems, employee voice and co-created leadership.
  7. It’s based on high levels of employee involvement and empowerment, combining direct and representative participation.
  8. It is not a blueprint but comprises generic principles and practices to inspire fresh innovation in each organisation through inclusive dialogue, experimentation and learning.
  9. Workplace innovation is not a one-off. It introduces workplace practices and cultures that continually inspire and engage inspire and engage everyone to explore and discover better ways of doing things, harnessing creativity and talent from across the organisation.
  10. Workplace innovation doesn’t just change organisations – it changes the people who work in them, not least senior team members and managers. It is strongly associated with trust, accountability, curiosity, creativity, coaching behaviours and emotional intelligence, all of which grow with the workplace innovation journey.

Workplace innovation is now embedded in the economic growth policies of the EU and several national and regional governments across the world. More importantly, it is transforming the way that a growing number of companies and public organisations work across all sizes and sectors of the economy. Join the movement!

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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