Innovation should be a high priority for all

George Cox’s review of creativity in UK business on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is particularly timely given Vodafone’s recent UK Working Nation report, which suggests that more can be done to encourage the UK’s workforce to be more innovative (Personnel Today, 14 June).

Cox’s comments about the increasingly important relationship between economic success and innovation are undoubtedly valid. Daily news stories detailing the growing prowess of the Chinese and Indian economies mean that the UK will need to make sure that an innovative climate is built up, supported and exploited.

For years, leaders from the private and public sectors have identified innovation as a critical success factor. It has been clear that an organisation’s sustained growth is partially dependent on its ability to harness intellectual capital, and generate an entrepreneurial approach at all levels. There are, of course, many other factors that affect growth, but ask any senior management team, and innovation will be high on its list of priorities.

The Vodafone report shows that smaller firms are the best at generating new ideas, which is unsurprising. The day-to-day office environment can act as a barrier to staff generating innovative ideas. This can be even more pronounced in larger organisations – a notion that is supported by the report’s finding that just 13% of the workforce in large corporations see their ideas taken up.

One reason might be that, as organisations grow in scale and face increasingly complex challenges, the focus for managers turns from creating value, to managing risk. Research by Deloitte shows that it is an organisation’s ability to manage value creation as well as risk that can deliver long-term success.

Innovation is a crucial part of value creation, and it should sit at the heart of an organisation. I am not talking about suggestion boxes, where ideas are collected but rarely acted upon. Looking at an organisation’s internal processes is often a key to unlocking competitive advantage. It is about developing a culture in which innovation is allowed to flow throughout the organisation.

With the survey finding that in the transport, manufacturing and utilities sectors two-thirds of staff spend no time at all coming up with ideas, and 14% of utilities workers and 9% of manufacturing workers associate innovation with redundancy, the DTI review is desperately needed.

Nurturing a creative environment should not only be the responsibility of senior management. It is the responsibility of all tiers of management, and HR also has an important role to play. Indeed, utilising human capital productively needs to be a focus for the entire organisation, regardless of how junior the staff member.

John Connolly is chief executive and senior partner, Deloitte

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