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Four tips to release employee-driven innovation

By: Neil Colquhoun, EMEAR Business Director, ‎Epson Europe
Published: Monday, November 30, 2015 - 10:37 GMT Jump to Comments

The most important asset of any business is its people. Innovative products and services may give a business a temporary competitive advantage, but an innovative workforce will sustain its success.

Increasingly, companies are recognising that innovation doesn’t only happen through investment in R&D — it also involves people across the company identifying and acting on innovation opportunities.

Several forward thinking companies are already reaping the benefits from employee-driven innovation. British Airways introduced an online suggestion box for employees to propose how the airliner could further reduce emissions and fuel costs. One of the 200 ideas submitted was a suggestion to descale aircraft toilet pipes which led to the airline saving £600,000 through weight reduction and improving the performance of inflight conveniences.

Another example is Amazon, which created its Amazon Prime annual membership programme following a staff suggestion. The company's profits increased dramatically, as Amazon customers typically spend 150% more after becoming a Prime member.

These are just two of many success stories that illustrate how companies can increase their competitiveness, efficiency and quality of their products or services through listening closely to their employees. Speaking from experience, I believe any business can stimulate employee-driven innovation with the help of four useful tips:

Give employees the tools for creative thinking

Giving your employees the appropriate tools to make meetings and brainstorms more effective enables businesses to leverage the collective knowledge of the workforce. Take, for example, interactive projectors. These combine the benefits of flipcharts, whiteboards and conventional projectors into one unified meeting experience, turning any office area into a collaborative space that stimulates creativity.

Providing meeting tools like these facilitates better sharing of information via different communication channels, as well as accommodating multiple perspectives and creative ideas in real time. Users working in different locations can annotate and share documents in a live virtual meeting situation before emailing to colleagues or sending straight to a printer, making it a great tool to capture a brainstorm’s output.

Today, there are many cloud based solutions available to encourage knowledge sharing and stimulate innovation including Innoget, Innocentive and NineSigma.

Avoid a silo mentality

In order to allow a free flow of ideas it is important for employers to encourage an “open-minded” culture that can sometimes be a structural challenge for many large corporates with established hierarchies. Businesses can break down the barriers by facilitating collaboration between employees from different areas of the business.

When a group of people with different areas of expertise or from various parts of the business come together, a synergy is created which often leads to employees making associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts that form the basis of the most ground-breaking ideas.

Another way to improve the information flow is to encourage your staff to develop themselves in a variety of disciplines through secondments to different parts of the organisation. At Epson, this has allowed our engineers to broaden the scope of creation via the combination and cross-fertilization of technologies, which lead to innovations in the areas of printing, visual communications, sensing, and manufacturing.

A good example is our first binocular smart glasses product, Moverio, now in its second generation, which was developed by combining our projection and sensing technologies with our ability to miniaturise components.

Encourage competitions and open forums

The key to stimulating employee innovation is to offer people platforms to voice their ideas in the form of a suggestion box, open forum or competition. By giving employees the chance to put their innovative ideas forward to senior management, they will feel more valued and engaged in the company.

As the British Airways example highlights, competitions are most effective when focused around a specific issue that needs to be solved. To spur further engagement, think about the incentives you could offer for the winning idea, such as a cash prize or recognition in the form of an award. Once the winning idea is chosen, it is important to implement the idea into tangible initiatives and products. This proves that you can be trusted and will encourage employees to engage in future innovation programmes.

Create an inspiring work environment

Let’s face it; a grey office cubicle is not the most conducive space to inspire innovation. Companies should help inspire employees by providing a visually stimulating workplace environment. Art in the workplace is proven to be an important factor in getting employees into an innovation mind-set.

A survey of more than 800 employees by the Business Committee for the Arts and the International Association for Professional Art Advisors showed that 64% of employees believe art in the workplace stimulates creativity and productivity, while an overwhelming 77% agreed that an inspiring work environment broadens employee appreciation of diversity, encourages discussion and the expression of ideas.

A fine art collection might not be on the cards for the majority of companies, but the good news is that new advances in inkjet technology can help businesses enliven their office spaces more cost-effectively. Wide format print solutions are able to print onto almost any surface imaginable, including canvas, glass and metal, opening up a world of office design possibilities. Similarly, projectors can be used to display any number of coloured images that animate otherwise dull and bland working environments.

These four tips might seem straightforward but they require real dedication and commitment to make them happen. This is especially true for larger and more established organisations, where structural barriers and formal procedures could present real challenges to implementing true employee-led innovation.

In this case it is essential that any company looking to introduce any of the above ideas should look to gain full and visible support from the top of the organisation. Sustaining these efforts will reap rewards and – when done well – these can be significant both in creating a more inspired and engaged workforce and through transforming a company’s fortune.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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