Innovation through engagement, enablement and empowerment

Written by
Jo Harley

07 Apr 2016

07 Apr 2016 • by Jo Harley

Companies that fulfill a traditional need unconventionally like this have sprouted up where markets least expect them; thousands of businesses are grappling to emulate this success by devising innovations of their own. We live in a world consumed by innovation, which in turn springs from creativity, which unfortunately cannot simply be produced. Or can it?

Are you fully engaged?

According to Purple Cubed’s 2016 Engage, Enable Empower report, which surveyed 220 directors across the UK, 58% of respondents believe they have a strategy in place for their businesses to be more innovative in 2016 – yet 56% do not have the data to support this and to prove their people feel empowered to innovate. 

As businesses desperately aspire to innovate almost perpetually, additional findings from Purple Cubed’s qualitative study of HR directors, revealed exclusively to Changeboard that the pressure is on HR to make this culture of innovation a reality. 

Alastair Proctor, chief HR officer at IPG Mediabrands, explains that a vital way to reach this goal, is as simple as giving employees the independence and flexibilty to tackle problems and challenges; in other words, it’s about empowerment. He says: “This is all about giving people the opportunity to find their own way to achieve the company goals and it’s also about trust and allowing people to take calculated risks. This helps us continue to innovative and engage with our people whilst developing their careers and at the same time the company benefits from the different and shared views of how to meet our future challenges.”

Gareth Hughes, managing director and head of HR (Europe) at Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets, takes the idea a step further, outlining a clear link between employee engagement and innovation. 

He says: “It’s hard to tell where engagement ends and innovation starts. In some organisations people are financially incentivised for coming up with innovative ideas. But if they were engaged, they would be more likely to collaborate with colleagues, have innovative people around them and be enabled to innovate. This enablement is a key driver of both engagement and innovation. 

“Innovation can be in the culture of a business. It’s about how leaders treat their teams and how colleagues treat each other. Here we work to engage younger employees and to nurture a gender balance. But staff have to believe what leaders are saying – we need authentic leaders as these are key to creating a culture of engagement and innovation. Employees that are empowered, feel that they have the support to lead and innovate. They have the tools in place to do the best job they possibly can – and vitally they have the freedom to be allowed to fail. They are rewarded for collaborating and contributing to new ideas.”

In Purple Cubed’s study of business leaders, when asked to define ‘engagement’, although there was ambiguity and a lack of clarity in general, the majority of respondents did agree that it was about ‘colleagues being empowered and enabled to thrive’.

So what is the secret to innovation, enablement and empowerment?

Isabel Naidoo, vice president of HR at FIS Global, explains: “To me it means creating an environment where challenge is the norm, where innovation is actively encouraged and the default option is to ask, not tell. It’s easy to pay lip service to, hard to do. Hold up examples of what has worked and failed, invest in people’s ideas, try new things, pilot-pilot-pilot. And critically identify the innovators and give your people space to experiment.”

Naidoo runs HR in a large global tech firm, though to conclude, Tim Morgan, CEO of UK-based innovative start up tech firm, Mint Digital, sums up how he has been able to make innovation the lifeblood and culture of his business. 

“It’s about employers being unafraid to be modern, and it’s about open minded and pragmatic workplaces,” he says. 

“In 2006 we introduced a crowd sourced bonus scheme, so it was up to the entire business – not just senior managers – to decide who would get bonuses. This is not about ‘blue sky thinking’ HR; these ideas should grow organically from any business – employers should know what their people want and get ahead of the curve. 

“We empower our staff to define problems in the market place and solve them. Our competition could be entrepreneurs working from home with no rules at all – we have to allow our staff this freedom so they can compete. 

“We can’t have a corporate free for all so there has to be some rigor and structure, but there is nothing more powerful than inclination and we allow staff to have this.”