People Centred Change - Driving Employee Innovation

Who's your 'Hero of the day'? Do your staff organise their own teams? How empowered is your workforce?

Adrian Gillespie, Managing Director of Growth Companies, Innovation and Infrastructure at Scottish Enterprise.

These were some of the interesting questions we asked our guests at the launch of Scottish Enterprise’s Workplace Innovation service last week (Monday 22nd August) at Edinburgh Zoo.

Over 60 eager and enthusiastic businesses came along to our masterclass to hear about the critical role workplace innovation can play in increasing Scotland’s productivity. We also heard directly from Scottish businesses who have increased their competitiveness and productivity by recognising the power of their people. John Reid, General Manager of Michelin in Dundee explained how he and his team had turned ‘a weakening Tyre Factory into a Successful Business with a long term future, through engaging the workforce and harnessing their potential’.

John flagged that the key ingredients were respect, transparency and trust, all aligned with a clear and simple focus – and I think that’s a great target for us all to aspire to.

Workplace Innovation is an underused resource for businesses who seek improved performance and employee engagement. For example, research from the US shows productivity premiums of up to 30% for those investing in workplace innovation. And there’s evidence from a Dutch study that indicates 75% of successful business innovation is actually through changes to managerial, organisational and work practices at an operational level. I also drew on the example of Finland which has impressively embedded Workplace Innovation within its economic strategy aiming to create the best working life in the EU by 2020.

I am conscious that Workplace Innovation is a term that’s perhaps new to people – so what does it really mean? Put simply – it’s about developing new ways of working that benefit everyone through innovation.

Scottish Enterprise’s new service is very much focused on supporting companies to find new ways of engaging the creativity, knowledge and skills of their people to drive success – the lively debate and discussion at the masterclass was great to see showing just how keen individuals are in recognising the business benefits of fair and responsible business practices.

Paul Wheelhouse, the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy emphasised that the Scottish Government’s economic strategy fully backs competitiveness and tackling inequalities as two mutually supportive ambitions. Indeed, Mr Wheelhouse emphasised that companies that put ‘progressive people practices’ at the heart of their strategies to drive innovation are undoubtedly far more likely to succeed.

Our guest speakers talked through their very personal journeys to inspire their workforces. From implementing a performance management system designed in conjunction with staff, to developing teams who are trusted to organise their own work, and prioritise it – to simple initiatives like rewarding a ‘Hero of the Day’ or arranging for the local ice cream van to stop off to provide refreshments for staff – there was certainly an array of interesting and innovative ideas and examples. But the really impressive part for the audience was hearing the results. Organisations such as Edinburgh Zoo and Michelin have increased employee engagement whist delivering a range of business benefits including increased productivity, decreasing staff turnover and reducing absence.

So what practical support is available from us here at Scottish Enterprise? Firstly, the Workplace Innovation Engagement programme will support companies to implement progressive people practices, through the development of a tailored action plan – which aims to deliver genuine improvements in productivity, employee engagement and work organisation. We are also running new High Performing Participating Teams programme – working with senior leadership teams, providing them with ‘know how’ to improve leadership decision making; increase resilience; and empower employees to be more innovative.

The next Masterclass for ambitious, growing businesses to learn more about Workplace Innovation, participate in discussion and share experiences is scheduled to take place on 3rd November 2016 in Dundee – details will be available on

Finally my message would be that every employer in Scotland – no matter how big or small, where it is based or what it does – can benefit from investing in workplace innovation, and the support out there to get started just got better!