Increased innovation from Employee Engagement

This blog is one of a series looking at how you can drive significant improvements in your organisation at very little cost. Improving Employee Engagement has been shown to lead to step-change improvements in all of the following areas:-

  1. Income growth
  2. Productivity and performance
  3. Customer/client satisfaction
  4. Innovation
  5. Absence and well-being
  6. Staff retention
  7. Health and safety

This post will focus on what is happening in the real world in the area of Innovation.

Innovation 1

  • Encouraging shop floor input at BAE and creating a more engaged workforce led to more than £26 million of improvement opportunities being identified by the shop floor in the first year, and during the second year the time taken to build the Typhoon aircraft fell by more than 25%.
  • 59% of the more engaged employees say that work brings out their most creative ideas, against 3% of the less engaged (Gallup 2007).
  • In 2010 the Welsh Government launched the ‘Managing with Less’ initiative to respond to the reductions in budgets needed in tough financial times. It secured the active engagement of most of their 5,500 employees. 98% of employees were aware of the ‘Managing with Less’ initiative, 83% of employees participated in discussions to identify cost- and efficiency-savings, and 86% of employees felt their colleagues were committed to the ‘Managing with Less” approach. In 2010-11, ‘Managing with Less’ resulted in spending reductions of more than £20m without the need for compulsory redundancies.

It is clear that levels of Employee Engagement can really help to enable more innovation in organisations. There are many ways that this innovation can be drawn out of more engaged employees. I found the process described by John Cleese at a conference organised by Video Arts at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London particularly useful when working with one of my clients.

In his lecture, Cleese outlined two states that humans adopt – closed and open. When at work, people are in the closed mode most of the time. In this mode, people are very purposeful, with a sense that there is lots to be done and that they need to get on with it. It is a very active, perhaps even anxious, mode. Creativity is very difficult, if not impossible, to access in the closed mode, and is only really accessible when people are in the open mode. My experience is that the closed mode is very useful when one wants to get things done. I also have experienced the willingness of highly engaged people to enter the open mode when they are empowered to be truly innovative.

Cleese innovation lecture

Cleese described a 5-stage process for accessing the open mode, in which people are more relaxed and expansive and less purposeful, in order to access creativity and innovation. He outlined the elements for accessing this open mode as:-

  1. Space
  2. Time
  3. Time
  4. Confidence
  5. Humour

It is important to create the right environment for innovation, getting the right physical space and allocating an appropriate amount of time to stay in the open mode and be innovative. Once time and space have been allocated, it is necessary to give more time for things to develop. For example, if one has allocated 90 minutes for innovation, within that 90 minutes give yourself time to let your mind clear of all the urgent minutiae that will initially force themselves back into your thoughts. Given time, those thoughts will fade and creativity can begin to flow. Cleese argues that creativity is often limited by our discomfort at not having the solution to a problem, by our desire to get on and make a choice and take a decision. Often we do so before we really need to, in order to ease our discomfort with not having an answer. If we give ourselves more time (right up to the last possible moment we have to make our decision, if necessary), our creativity and innovation are enhanced.

The fourth element, confidence, relates to the biggest potential block to innovation – the fear of making a mistake. Enabling complete confidence that whatever evolves from the open mode is okay, creating a child-like delight with the playfulness of experimentation, and remembering that you cannot be spontaneous within reason all help engaged employees really harness the innovation that lies in the art of “what if?”

Humour is one of the quickest and most effective ways to move from the closed mode to the open mode. Often, we limit the use of humour because we regard it as inappropriate when discussing important, weighty matters like seriously reducing the time it takes to produce a new jet fighter in order to slash our time to market and cut the costs of development, so we can achieve the very serious goal of keeping our jobs. Cleese argues that we confuse seriousness with “solemnity” when we regard humour as inappropriate in these sorts of circumstances. Solemnity, he proposes, is the defence of the pompous and self-important who need to protect against their egotism being punctured by humour; humour that might impact their self-image. Their lack of humour is used by them to argue they are more serious and their arguments therefore carry more weight. In reality, humour is an essential part of innovation, of playfulness, of creativity. Enabling the introduction of humour is a vital component of the process of innovation. I have no research or studies to confirm this, but is seems to me my experience tells me that more engaged employees are more open to humour whilst working on serious topics and are less likely to be pompous and self-important.

Innovation is increasingly important in a world where the pace of change seems ever-quickening. Organisations can improve their innovation by putting in place sensible programmes to improve Employee Engagement that do not cost a great deal and deliver great bottom line results. Organisations win when they thoughtfully and consistently implement well-designed programmes to increase Employee Engagement. It seems to me that they also have more of a sense of humour, fun and enjoyment.