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Motivating staff and the changing workplace culture

By Simon Hill

October 8 2012 - The current economic climate is still having a significant impact on the way organisations operate. The pressure to cut costs and reduce expenditure has led to a fall in innovation and has also made it harder to motivate and engage employees on an on-going basis.

A recent report by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) - the UK's innovation agency - stated that investment in new products and ideas has fallen by £24bn since the recession hit in 2008 and not yet recovered. A report earlier this year by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested that employers faced a mammoth challenge to keep staff motivated against the ‘new normal' of pay cuts and freezes.

Could there be a single solution to that double issue? Traditionally innovation has been the responsibility of a select few - management teams, marketing departments - but could creating a more open culture reap dividends, both in terms of creating ideas and innovation but also in engaging and motivating staff?

Lacking ideas

Amazing and inspiring ideas are all around us. From technology to business and from sport to culture, ideas and innovation are at the very heart of almost everything we do. Apple is a classic example of how a company can thrive based on a simple yet ingenious idea, yet one wonders how many ground-breaking ideas within business all over the world lay unseen and dormant.

Innovation is important to business for many reasons - differentiating from the competition, devising new ways of working, different approaches, new products and services - and is widely recognised as having a significant impact on productivity and overall business performance and success. But too many organisations are only paying lip service to innovation. Often there is nowhere or no method by which people can submit an idea. New ideas are the responsibility of a select few and if an employee isn't part of that then there is little incentive for them to be proactive with an idea. If there is no culture of innovation, any organisation will struggle to get innovation programmes off the ground.

Staff lacking motivation

With the economy how it is, much of the UK workforce will have half an eye on possible cuts and job losses. The CIPD research revealed that last year a larger number of employees received a pay cut or freeze than in any year since 2008. If people weren't having their pay cut, then bonuses may well have been on hold and any pay rises would probably have been modest.

So in such circumstances, how do employers motivate and retain their workforce's commitment? It's a question that has been debated and discussed by HR professionals, social scientists, employee engagement specialist, team leaders and more for decades. One common theme that resonates through those discussions is that recognition is key to employee motivation. Short term incentives such as an employee of the month plaque or prize have only limited appeal and few staff would feel genuinely engaged and motivated by that.

But if you were to involve them in the future direction of the organisation, let them know their opinions are trusted and valued, make them feel they are all seen as equal and give them a platform to be involved in the company, now that could be a different story altogether.

Two problems, one solution

That is not to discount the very real concerns about pay freezes and the threat of cuts but true employee engagement can be a really powerful force in the workplace. The best ideas do not necessarily come from the most senior people or from those that shout their ideas the loudest, so providing a platform for people to submit ideas can reap dividends, for staff engagement as well as actually generating ideas.

So many good ideas are lost in quickly forgotten coffee break conversations or remain unnoticed in someone's inbox. Having somewhere that people can submit their ideas, secure in the knowledge that those ideas will be read, evaluated and feedback provided is a key component for any organisation serious about innovation. Staff need to know how and where to share their ideas and know that ideas will get listened to by the right people in the organisation to take that idea further.

And when an idea is submitted, evaluated, used and recognition given, an employee's motivation will receive a huge boost.

Idea management in action

One of our customers is publisher Faber & Faber. With the advent of ebooks and digital publishing changing the entire dynamic of the industry, remaining innovative is arguably more important in publishing than other industries. Faber felt that its 100-strong workforce was a potential source of good ideas. It required a platform to capture those ideas but also to bring about a cultural change amongst its staff, so people had the confidence to come forward with an idea and be secure that their contribution would be recognised.

After implementing our idea management software, Faber's employees engaged immediately, submitting a number of ideas, one of which has already led to a team being formed from across the business to overhaul Faber's internal communications. Both the idea and the idea creator had a stage, with the ideas voted on by the organisation before the good ideas are reviewed by senior management.

This helps provide some of the innovation that had been required but with people being recognised for their contributions, everyone seeing who and where the ideas come from, the beginnings of a more open and collaborative culture are there.

Staff are already involved and motivated and not a single employee of the month plaque was needed.

About the author

Simon Hill is CEO and founder of Wazoku, an idea management software firm that works with organisations such as Faber & Faber to help encourage innovation and create a more democratic and entrepreneurial workforce.

Simon is a former biz development director at Huddle and was also a PwC consultant with a remit to find innovative UK businesses. He believes the best way to drive innovation is by changing the culture of an organisation to empower staff and give them the platform and confidence to come forward.
Twitter: @wazokuhq



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