Moderator: Andy Follows, Aquilae
Expert: Simon Hill, Wazoku
- Simon set the scene, explaining that innovation can be a hook towards employee engagement which, as well as providing multiple other benefits, is synonymous with employee satisfaction. He suggested that, rather than focusing on innovation as an outcome, companies should practise behaving innovatively and let the innovations emerge. He also pointed out the connection between a company’s culture and its ability to innovate. He shared an example of two separate businesses within a group well known for its innovative behaviour. One entity had grown up being innovative and the other, an acquisition of an established business from a traditional sector, was having to learn to behave innovatively and was finding it a struggle. He recommended that we ask ourselves, “How do we engage and develop people to drive the business forward?’’ as well as considering, “What are the blockers to behaving innovatively? Is it our culture, are people afraid, could it even be our managers?”
- To the question of how to handle the increasing aversion to risk experienced in organisations beset by regulatory compliance pressures we were advised to adopt innovative behaviours “at the level of the organisations we want to be”.
- There is a feeling that behaving innovatively has to be expensive, this is not the case. How much do you know about the people in your organization and the value that they could add? You need people with different qualities. Some may be great with ideas while others provide useful challenge to strengthen and refine those ideas and so on. There are lots of steps in the change journey and a range of actions that we need to be taking to avoid potential icebergs. It’s important to harness the diversity of opinion that exists within our businesses and in so doing to engage our employees in the task of keeping us relevant. The at times all-consuming nature of maintaining “business as usual” was a common challenge for the group. One organization has set up its innovation lab completely separately from the main business to allow it the freedom to explore and develop new ideas away from the more traditional behaviours and daily operational pressures of the main business. So far this approach seems to be working with their “hackathons” attracting a lot of interest.
- We discussed and agreed the value in having specific problems in mind when engaging with employees to elicit their innovative solutions. For example, we might ask them, “How do we do away with policy wording?” If the brief is too wide, so will be the ensuing suggestions and the quality of those proposals will suffer. Use the hackathon to hone in on a specific area that you want to address and take care in positioning it that its name, borrowed from the world of cyber-crime, does not cause people to assume that it’s a day for techies only. The comparison with Silicon Valley firms and how they treat employees interested our group. Who doesn’t like free food?! It was acknowledged that encouraging people to eat together also created an opportunity for people from different areas of the business to sit together and talk about what they were doing and challenges they were tackling. Allowing ideas to rub up against each other in this way is a recognized ingredient for innovation, so there’s a potential payoff for all that generosity.
- Equally, there were lessons to be learned from a much more traditional UK retailer, known and appreciated for the quality of customer experience it delivers. This took us into other elements that drive employee engagement like having a sense of ownership of the business, the importance of trust and the levels of performance that can be maintained when employees hold each other accountable and call each other out should their standards slip below the group’s expectations. Collaboration was cited as a strong contributor to the success of this particular business and that behaviour kept appearing throughout the session as a cornerstone of healthy and effective culture and an ingredient for innovation. Communication and the cascading of key information was also felt to be vital. Being kept up to date by your manager had a special value and was perceived to hold more significance than a blanket “corporate” message.
- Celebrating success and recognizing achievements was acknowledged as providing fuel for continued efforts as well as shining a light on areas of the business that employees may otherwise not know much about. A greater all round awareness can lead to more collaboration and innovation as people merge their different perspectives. The value of having a clear mission that motivates employees to jump out of bed in the morning was also discussed. For some organisations it’s very easy for employees to see how the work, that what they are doing is making the world a better place. For others, it’s not immediately apparent and the leaders must spend time identifying their mission and helping employees at all levels connect with it or they risk letting a significant amount of potential contribution go to waste. (This was echoed by Linda Moir in her closing keynote with the excellent example of the incredible commitment of the volunteers at the Olympic and Paralympic Games). Some organisations collaborate with charities to help bring some overtly meaningful activity into their employees working day.
We touched on the barrier represented by acronyms when people are prevented from understanding and potentially collaborating with other departments because they don’t know what they’re talking about! Jargon can speed things up for those in the know and may engender a sense of cohesion for the group using it but at what price if it’s also serving to isolate them within the business?
Simon had expressed his desire at the outset that participants should take away at least one action point to promote innovative behaviour within their own organisations and during the final feedback round it was clear that participants had found the session informative and valuable.