Defining Workplace Innovation – The Employee-Driven Innovation Element

The Employee-Driven Innovation Element

Leading thinking and practice no longer sees innovation as the principal prerogative of entrepreneurs or people in white coats; rather it is becoming part of the day-to-day work of employees at all levels of the company. Competitive companies need all their people to come to work to do two things: to accomplish their functional tasks in the best possible way and to improve the business. For such companies, “improving the business” can mean anything from empowering frontline workers to instigate incremental improvements in productivity or quality, to involving a whole diagonal slice of employees in groundbreaking innovation by bringing together the conceptual and strategic knowledge of technicians and managers with the tacit knowledge and practical experience of those in assembly teams or frontline staff.

Systematic opportunities for shared learning and reflection are well embedded in these workplaces. This is reflected in times and spaces where people at work can discuss ideas with co-workers or in team meetings. 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.

A growing number of organisations provide employees with regular opportunities to join cross-functional improvement teams to identify and drive forward product or process changes that would otherwise be lost under the pressure of day-to-day workloads. Time-out sessions, ‘down-tools weeks’ and hackathons, bringing people together who otherwise wouldn’t meet, can become fountains of constructive dialogue, creativity and innovation. For an increasing number of organisations it means creating dedicated innovation spaces or ‘FabLabs’ that bring diverse combinations of people together, thinking in different ways, sharing technical knowledge and insights, creating new products or services and reinventing work processes.

Ideas for improving the business should also be part of the day job. Many argue strongly that new ideas can come from anyone and reject the idea of setting up a separate innovation team. Networks of volunteer “guerrillas”, recruited from every level of the organisation, trained in facilitation techniques and empowered to ask difficult questions, can be used to establish a culture of innovation.

Employee-driven innovation and improvement emphasises the importance of aligning the knowledge and expertise of senior teams with the tacit knowledge and experience of frontline workers while recognising and valuing continuing learning. It must also reflect deeper structural practices within each organisation: sustainable and effective employee engagement in innovation and improvement cannot happen in isolation. It must be driven from the top and reinforced by consistent messages from leaders, aligned with organisational structures and procedures, and underpinned by empowerment and discretion in day-to-day working life. Line management culture and performance measurement invariably play a critical role in enabling, or inhibiting, employee-driven improvement and innovation.

Our short film is based on case studies of four innovative organisations.[progressally_vimeo_video id=’4 companies’ vimeo_id=’137077851′ width=’800′ height=’350′ ]

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How can you create opportunities for people to think creatively and share their ideas for innovation and improvement?

Please discuss your answer in the comment section below

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