Unlocking Innovation in Business

85% of UK workers believe the strategic objectives of their employers could more easily be met through innovative approaches. Fortunately, the innovation discussion in business is progressing. Yet although most organisations acknowledge the desperate need for change, they are still at a loss when it comes to taking action. Workforces are a goldmine for the insight needed to drive change in an increasingly competitive business environment - but this knowledge must be captured to unlock innovation.

Organisations therefore need to work on a clear innovation strategy. This includes ensuring the necessary processes are put in place to filter ideas; clarifying the business objectives around innovation; and creating a culture of collaborative idea sharing.

Capturing ideas

According to Wazoku’s EveryDay Innovation Report, more than half (52%) of employees believe that although their organisation is full of great ideas, yet there is no established process for them to be shared and filtered. 86% believe that a platform to capture ideas would help.

Large organisations with high numbers of employees and a distributed workforce can find it particularly hard to innovate due to their sheer size. Capturing and evaluating the ideas generated by employees can therefore be an overwhelming task. In fact, our research shows that British businesses are typically missing out on 18,000 ideas every year to boost their bottom line because they are failing to listen to their workers’ ideas. The average employee suggests six ideas a year, yet less than half (43%) of these are being implemented.

Organisations are beginning to realise that a company-wide system to capture ideas will pave the way for innovation. Integrating idea management software into existing IT systems can help incorporate innovation into everyday working practices of employees, allowing for them to share ideas easily for review. These ideas can then be evaluated, filtered and the most valuable can be implemented.

76% of employees say they feel a part of their business when their ideas are recognised.

An effective process for harnessing ideas can also improve employee retention and job-satisfaction. Attracting and retaining top talent is becoming increasingly difficult in many sectors but making workers feel valued can really help. 76% of employees say they feel a part of their business when their ideas are recognised.

Measuring the impact of innovation

Investing in innovation means finding tangible ways to drive a measurable return on investment. Employees must be made aware of the objectives the business is trying to achieve through innovation so that the ideas submitted are as relevant as possible. Making company goals clear at the outset will facilitate the process of using employee knowledge to drive targeted results.

It is also important to remember that necessary change can come from the smallest ideas. The term ‘innovation’ has often been linked with radical change but this simply isn’t the case.

In fact, focusing too heavily on the big ideas can be counter-productive for some organisations. Innovation need not only be at polar opposite extremes of radical or incremental, as it makes innovation inaccessible. Medium-scale changes, with low to medium risk which are not difficult to implement and create a competitive advantage, are often preferred by companies. It is therefore important to encourage employees to make any good suggestions for change, as long as it is in line with company objectives.

Involving the wider business and putting innovation at the centre of everyday working life can help uncover ideas that may never have before been thought of, developed and implemented significantly faster.

One idea saw the formatting and management of till receipts transformed, allowing the retailer to save over £100k annually.

Waitrose is a prime example of a company who has made significant cost-savings through embracing innovation. It has received over 22 innovative new ideas a week over the last 18 months, demonstrating just how engrained innovation now is into everyday working life across the organisation. One idea saw the formatting and management of till receipts transformed, allowing the retailer to save over £100k annually.

Stuart Eames, Operational Improvement Manager at Waitrose said, “I would urge all businesses to take innovation into the centre of everything they do, so it’s accessible for all, in order to capitalise on the wealth of ideas at their fingertips.”

Creating an innovation culture

80% of workers believe that innovation ambiguity means the benefits of harnessing their ideas are unlikely to ever be realised. This lack of innovation culture is the prime challenge for organisations. According to the EveryDay Innovation Report, 65% of employees believe not enough is being done to encourage them to contribute in the innovation process; 27% say there’s a lack of interest in employee ideas: and 27% believe there’s a lack of incentives to share ideas in the first place.

In order for employees to buy into innovation management, businesses must communicate what innovation means to the organisation. At the moment, 72% of employees have no understanding of what innovation means to their employer. Only half (51%) of British business managers completely understand their organisation’s definition of innovation, the strategy they need to implement it, and how it fits into wider corporate goals.

By developing a strategy and communicating it to the workforce, innovation can become more agile, sustainable and effective. In other words, for innovation to deliver, a high-performing culture of ‘EveryDay Innovation’ must be achieved.

By Simon Hill

About the author

Simon Hill is an innovation leader and expert; co-founder of employee innovation software company Wazoku and tech evangelist. He is an active author, blogger and speaker on topics relating to collaborative innovation, crowdsourcing, co-creation, interpreneurship and more. His expertise has been recognised extensively, being awarded the prestigious title of Guardian SME Leader of the Year 2014 and noted as a Top 15 influencer in crowdsourcing both in 2013 and 2014. He is also an Angel Investor and advisor to several B2B and B2C early stage tech businesses.

“All organisations need to innovate, solve problems and generate new ideas to meet objectives. People are a business’s greatest resource when doing so. By engaging a broader set of voices in discussions, new perspectives and valuable insights can be gained, implemented, measured and realised faster – so find good people and get them talking!” – Simon Hill