Name: Clare Alexander
Company: Scottish Enterprise
Research shows that fair work practices, and increasing employee motivation and well-being within the workplace, plays a particularly important role in reducing employee stress, enhancing job satisfaction and well-being, improving mental health and increasing retention.
The ideas of your employees could hold the key to business success
Innovation isn’t always a huge process – it’s often just a neat solution to a problem. Workplace innovation, a practice growing in popularity across Europe, helps businesses tap into the most important innovation source of all: the ideas of their employees. By encouraging workers to share ideas and suggestions, companies will not only improve staff satisfaction but can stimulate a broad range of benefits that extend throughout the business.
Clare Alexander, head of workplace innovation at Scottish Enterprise, is a firm believer in how these principles are helping us shape more efficient, successful and inclusive organisations. She’s part of the team behind the upcoming launch of a new Scottish Enterprise service that encourages companies to rethink their approach to innovation and work towards a brighter business future.
From the shop floor to the boardroom, workplace innovation intends to help staff to reach their full potential – creative collaboration ensures that businesses are as profitable as possible. There’s growing proof that effective workplace innovation can lead to improved productivity and efficiency, better employee engagement and a quicker uptake of innovation within organisations. And as Clare observes, there are significant benefits for businesses who work this way.
“Research shows that fair work practices, and increasing employee motivation and well-being within the workplace, plays a particularly important role in reducing employee stress, enhancing job satisfaction and well-being, improving mental health and increasing retention,” she says. “This in turn feeds into ongoing improvements in innovation, productivity and efficiency, creating a positive and self-perpetuating cycle.”
Stimulating sustainable growth
Through a series of structured workshops and learning events, Scottish Enterprise aims to energise and inspire Scottish businesses to invest in the ideas of their employees. “We’re developing a workplace innovation service aimed at helping firms uncover new ways of working,” says Clare, “to make the best use of all resources – people, processes and relationships – to deliver their objectives while also creating the workforces that will drive Scotland’s productivity, innovation and competitiveness.
“We know that successful and sustainable organisations create empowering workplace environments that enable employees – across all levels – to use their knowledge, competencies and talents to the fullest possible extent” she adds.
Putting it into practice
Stena Line, one of the world’s largest ferry operators, found enormous success with this approach. Their innovation plan was based on a simple, single target – receiving at least one employee idea a year. Support from Scottish Enterprise helped the company to implement their new innovation system, enabling them to collaborate with consultants to roll out the system, train their first wave of ‘innovation champions’ and help manage change within the company.
Stena Line’s steady stream of ideas
Ideas began to stream in from their employees. Today, almost 3500 employee suggestions have been submitted, and over 300 ideas have been implemented. Since then, they’ve seen significant improvements. By installing wind turbines on certain ferries they’ve cut their energy usage by half a percent. And when a dockyard worker noticed the length of time it took lorry drivers to hitch and unhitch trailers, his simple and time-saving suggestion was implemented to great success. This initative whet Stena Line’s appetite for innovation and they’ve since upped their innovation budget to £5 million. They’re also planning to open up this suggestion board to customer feedback.
A diplomatic approach
They aren’t the only Scottish business putting this philosophy into practice. Tayside technical textiles manufacturing firm, Scott & Fyfe, were early adopters of this approach. Now 93 per cent owned by an employee benefit trust and seven per cent directly by employees, they’ve embedded the workplace innovation idea into the fabric of their organisation.
Nick Kuenssberg, chairman professor at Scott & Fyfe says: “We have developed some very exciting new ideas, some of which are taking us directly into new markets we didn’t know even existed.” They’ve altered the layout of their organisation to support this new approach. Using four strategic business pods, each with a round table, the surroundings provide a sense of equality for employees. Ideas are freely discussed and shared, between employees of all levels, and recorded on whiteboards. “An idea is left there, people can work on it and everyone can see what is happening and critique what’s going on,” says Nick.
Creating a more inclusive business landscape
By maximising the productivity of our existing businesses, Scotland has the potential to increase outputs by £45 billion. Clare Alexander believes that implementing workplace innovation will help us to create a fairer and more sustainable business eco-system. “A review of American research shows that the magnitude of the impact on efficiency outcomes is substantial – with productivity premiums ranging between 15 per cent and 30 per cent for those investing in workplace innovation. “This feeds into ongoing improvements in innovation, productivity and efficiency, creating a positive and selfperpetuating innovation cycle.”
You can find out more about workplace innovation support from Scottish Enterprise on their website www.scottish-enterprise.com