Creating Space for Innovation
Recently we held our latest periodic Group Managers Meeting, at which our Management Team come together to report on the work they've been doing, and to plan ahead to continue to meet the challenges of a constantly evolving business world. Andy Jervis, our Group Chairman, included in his report a comment about encouraging innovation within the firm, and we thought that you might like to read it too.
If one were to spend much time viewing the myriad of LinkedIn posts and business blog ideas, it might appear that the whole world of work is one big playground with open licence by workers to choose their own hours, pick their holidays at random, choose the work that they do, and be inspired by the organisation that they work for.
As we know, the reality is usually very different.
However, it is clear that expectations of work and what it should offer have changed, and will change further in the years to come. Digital working, online collaboration and flatter structures all open up possibilities for organising the workplace that have never existed before. But, like so much around the application of technology, as a society we’re still trying to figure out how to use them.
The paradox in this is the perception that boundaries, procedures and processes can be simply swept away to discover a new way of working - one that encompasses personal freedom, control and pleasure, yet the very systems that allow this to happen are built on logic, workflows and processes.
Processes are vital to the smooth operation of any organisation, small or large, and they are at the root of efficiency. Sit in any restaurant and observe what happens to understand how important processes are to success. What people want is a repeatable experience, predictability and reliability in the middle of so much change. The processes that we have created over the last 30 years continue to deliver results, and it would be foolish to abandon them.
But if organisations are to move with the times they also need to think creatively, to spend time considering innovation and improvement, and they need to regularly reflect on the changing needs of their customers and how to satisfy them profitably. The processes that are the backbone of the business can also be seen as a major inhibitor to progress, standing in the way of creative thought and new ideas. Before fresh thinking can arise, there is often a need to remove old thinking.
If our processes are to be embraced by our Teams, several things need to happen. Firstly, all staff need to know that, if a process isn’t working, they have the power to change it. Managers need to have systems in place to encourage feedback, and to act on it promptly where it is valid.
Secondly, staff need to understand that they have the support of their managers to go outside of the process when it is clearly appropriate to do so. We should never hear “computer says no” or any variation of it. There will always be occasions when the standard practice needs to be set aside.
Thirdly, we need to create room for creative thought and experimentation. Giving staff allocated time to work on projects of their choice, to research into new areas, and to play with ideas is something I would very much like to see more of in the future.
If we are going to foster new ideas, we have to ensure that we listen and act on them if they are good ones, and feed back effectively if they are not, or people will become discouraged from taking part (i.e., we need a process for it!).
It’s not easy to create this type of environment when everyone has their nose to the grindstone and no spare capacity, so we need to continue to focus on efficiency and profitability to be able to deliver the luxury of creative time. However this should be the aim of all managers, and I’m sure it’s an approach that will serve us well over time.
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