Defining Workplace Innovation  

The Essential Fifth Element was designed by us in response to a request by the European Commission to translate lessons from a vast body of academic research and practical experience into an actionable approach to helping companies create better, more productive workplaces.

It offers a practical, evidence-based approach to understanding workplace innovation practices as well as their impact on performance and working life. The approach has found many applications across Europe and been adopted by ANACT (the French national organisation for working life), EUWIN (the European Commission’s Workplace Innovation Network, and Scottish Enterprise, amongst others.

The Fifth Element is structured around four distinct bundles of workplace practices (or Elements), each associated with high performance and workforce health and well-being. These practices were identified from an extensive analysis of research and case study evidence, and shaped by our own experience of working with diverse organisations across Europe.

Watch our animated film on The Essential Fifth Element.[progressally_youtube_video id=” youtube_id=’f6s3UAGIAuY’ width=’800′ height=’468′ ]

Each of the four Elements is broken down into several Themes. Themes are defined in ways that help to identify the potential for specific actions and innovations in workplace practice, and to recognise and celebrate effective ways of working.

An important feature of The Essential Fifth Element lies in its recognition that workplace practices can’t be treated in isolation from each other. According to our research, one of the most common reasons why the introduction of new workplace practices doesn’t succeed is ‘partial change’, in other words a failure to align other interdependent factors. Each Theme is therefore accompanied by a list of the Interdependencies which shape it; these must be considered during action planning and implementation.

Interdependencies relate to very specific workplace practices, each of which is known to exert influence on the practices described by the respective Themes.

The Jobs, Teams and Technology Element

Empowering people to work without close supervision avoids delays caused by unnecessary referral to managers. Allowing employees discretion in scheduling their own work and controlling its pace also minimises physical strain and psychological stress, and enables people to cope better under pressure.

Good jobs involve problem solving and addressing fresh challenges; they enable employees to make time to learn and to reflect on what is working well and what should be changed. This generates steady flows of improvement and innovation.

Of course, individual jobs can’t just be seen in isolation. The ability to share problems and solutions with colleagues, to learn and reflect together, to provide and receive support in challenging times and to celebrate successes also plays a vital role in engagement, well-being and performance. Teamworking lies at the heart of this equation. Self-managed teams empowered to plan and organise their own work are more productive, whether in factories or offices. They also offer much better places to work, and generate ideas for improvement, innovation and growth using the insights that day-to-day work experiences give them.

Technology is often heralded as the key to future success for private companies and public sector organisations alike. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current euphoria for ‘Industry 4.0’ or ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’ which promised to transform productivity, remove waste and eliminate repetitive work through the rational organisation of production and service delivery. Lessons from recent history show that organisations can make costly mistakes when investment decisions are driven by the technology rather than organisational strategy. Procurement-led investment that fails to harness the tacit knowledge and experience of those using the technology may very well fail. Research evidence and practical experience alike suggest that improvements in productivity will be achieved mainly through enhancing human labour through digital assistance rather than replacing it. In short, organisations are unlikely to achieve a full return on investment unless technological innovation and workplace innovation are considered together.

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Will there be resistance to empowering frontline employees and teams, and how can you overcome it?

Please discuss your answer in the comment section below

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