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Now there’s a thought

Jodie Gale, Head of People and Culture

I recently read an interesting article by Ernst & Young’s Americas Vice Chair for Talent, Carolyn Slaski. The gist of her argument is that companies that are recognised as innovation leaders aren’t necessarily very innovative when it comes to engaging and ultimately retaining their staff.

The research carried out by the global professional services firm found that almost 7 in 10 employees (69%) would jump at the chance to join a company that they thought was an innovator in its field. Why wouldn’t you want to join an Apple, a Nintendo or a Washington Post (yes, the famous US daily broadsheet made it into Fast Company’s world top 10 Most Innovative Companies for 2018)?

If you think about it, that makes sense. It would be all too easy to conclude that these same trailblazers would prioritise creativity, confidence and analytical problem solving (the three top characteristics identified of innovative employees). Wrong. According to the survey, just over one in four (26%) entry-level employees felt that their companies fostered an innovative culture (I’m not of course suggesting that this applies to the companies mentioned above!).

Respondents also felt that their organisations weren’t particularly good at letting people put forward their ideas. In other words, while companies are recognised as innovators in terms of what they do, this doesn’t translate to the workplace – at least not as far as their junior or entry level employees are concerned. 

Cross functional collaboration

Taken in a broader business context, we all know that to keep hold of talent, you must provide the right kind of environment for people to flourish. So, what can organisations do to empower their people and drive innovation?

Providing opportunities for development is a key part of the engagement and retention equation. Training, whether more technical or focused on soft skills, needs to be continuous and ongoing. Individuals want their companies to invest in their futures, enabling them to fulfill their potential (you can find out more on this from my Roc Search colleague and Head of Training, Alisia Hobbs).

The younger generations not only want to be challenged and stimulated, they want their ideas to be valued. Providing a medium for them to do this is key to the success of a business, both internally and ultimately externally too - just think of the potential pay-off and revenue generation. As a business we have a suggestion box in every office and recently ran an Employee Value Proposition project, giving our employees an open platform to discuss their ideas with the company.

The other important yet often neglected area is collaboration and diversity. Many employees spend far too much time in and around people from similar backgrounds. Having a wider representation of talent to work on important projects can be very effective – diversity of thought can only enhance business outcomes and innovation.

I’ve highlighted a few things to think about. What’s important, as the survey has shown, is that these interventions take place at the start of the employee’s career. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you’re not prepared to innovate on the ‘inside’, your competitors surely will.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave your comments below.