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Creating a culture of innovation

A colleague recently shared an experience that they had earlier in a workplace that required specific workwear. The items provided by their employer were ill-fitting and uncomfortable, which led to an unpleasant working day for them.

They didn’t feel an openness to raise the problem with their managers. They solved the problem for themselves and bought a better version of the workwear at their own expense.

We see this situation happen in many work environments. For example, it’s not uncommon for nurses to buy better fitting scrubs or for office workers to buy ergonomic aids.

As important as the provision of the correct equipment is, this reveals a deeper cultural issue. It speaks to a problem that many companies face – do employees feel empowered and engaged to challenge the status-quo and to feel supported when they do?

Until we feel able to address the day-to-day challenges, we will not be able to address bigger opportunities and threats.

Understanding the big trends that will shape our business is extremely important (and will help us define the areas of focus over the coming years), but unless we have a workplace culture that encourages all of us to question whether things can be done differently or can be improved, then everything else is just dreaming.

One study suggests that inclusive leadership – a style and philosophy that seeks to create a diverse and inclusive work environment where everyone's contributions are valued and respected – has an important effect on employees' innovative behaviour. Whilst leadership styles vary from person to person, encouraging employees to ask questions, to challenge norms and to take risks is fundamental in creating the conditions for a more inclusive environment and therefore one that fosters greater creativity and engagement.

Globally employee disengagement is costing businesses $7trillion in lost productivity

Cultivating a culture of innovation can deliver benefits beyond exploring new products and services, it can create greater engagement and positively impact metrics such as staff retention and company loyalty. To facilitate a positive culture, leaders must be willing to support and encourage employee feedback and risk-taking.

Going back to our colleagues who bought their own workwear, a better approach would have been for them to think about how they could have changed the working environment for the better. However, for that to happen they would have had to feel comfortable raising this issue with their manager, who in turn would have had to be confident that he could support them in testing some new way of doing things.

To initiate positive change in the workplace, a company needs to cultivate an environment where anyone can look at how things are done and explore ways of doing it better - without risking their professional standing.

Some simple steps we can all take to promote a more innovative workplace environment:

1 - Set expectations from the top. We all need to know that everyone in the company all the way to the boss values innovative thinking/curiosity and that ideas have a process that can turn them into something tangible.

2 - Encourage people to own their ideas.

If someone has an idea that could change the working environment for the better, make sure that they are at least part of the testing, if not managing it.

3 - Reward innovative thinking or questioning the status quo. Recognise people who have come up with ideas, for example, reward them with internal benefits.

4 - Demonstrate that taking risks is ok. Sometimes we need to try new things and fail before we come to the right solution. Managers should reassure their teams members that taking the risk and make suggestions is not only acceptable, but a necessary part of the innovation process.

Let us know your experiences of challenging the status-quo. What’s worked for you in your organisation and what hasn’t worked so well?



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