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Why workplace innovation matters for Scottish business

By Colin Lindsay - Posted on 3 November 2016

Dr Colin Lindsay, one of Strathclyde Business School's Innovating Works team,  takes a look at innovation and business, and how the Innovating Works team at Strathclyde is supporting workplace innovation.

Workplace innovation has gone from being a pretty obscure concept ten years ago to occupying a central place in strategies to promote productivity and inclusive growth in Scotland and beyond. It’s easy to understand why. There is an acceptance that effective and prosperous societies need agile, high performing businesses providing high quality jobs. ‘Innovation’ can no longer refer only to high-tech industries patenting cutting edge inventions. Instead, we need to help companies across a wide range of sectors to engage with the idea of workplace innovation.

These ideas have been taken up at EU level by the European Commission, which continues to promote a broad understanding of workplace innovation – “innovations in the way organisations are structured, how they manage their human resources, the way internal decision-making and innovative processes are devised, the way relationships with clients and suppliers are organised and the way the work environments and internal support systems are designed”. Equally importantly, workplace innovation is a key component of Scotland’s Economic Strategy, where the Scottish Government has set out a vision for Scotland based on inclusive growth and fair work.

Workplace innovation is therefore about getting the best from your key resources to deliver on business objectives and improve the quality of jobs and workplaces, delivering ‘fair work’ for employees. This latter idea of fair work has come to be strongly linked with the workplace innovation agenda in Scotland. The Scottish Government has established – and continues to support – an independent Fair Work Convention, which has identified and promoted what makes fair work and good jobs.

Fair work is clearly good for employees: people tend to be better off financially - and better off in terms of wellbeing - if they work in places where they have a sense of voice and fulfilment, a degree of security, opportunities to learn and progress, and where workers are treated with respect. But many of the components of fair work appear to be inter-connected with the conditions that allow employees and organisations to innovate.

Fair work, and a positive and collaborative organisational climate where success is shared between the business and its people, encourages employees to engage in solving business challenges and creates the spaces where they can do so. This, in turn, can build a fertile environment for new ideas and innovation to drive the business forward.

But what does all this mean in practice and what can businesses do? The good news is that lots of work is ongoing to support the workplace innovation and fair work agendas in Scotland. My own team – led by Professor Patricia Findlay, who also sits on Scotland’s Fair Work Convention – recently completed the Innovating Works project, which identified innovative and progressive workplace practices in SMEs in Scotland. Check out our report for a summary of our findings. We are also working with employers across a range of sectors on actions to promote ‘Fair, innovative and transformative work’ – an idea that was central to the recommendations of the Fair Work Convention.

Scottish Enterprise is also taking forward an important agenda around workplace innovation. My own team is collaborating with Scottish Enterprise to deliver the Workplace Innovation Masterclass Series. This promises to be an exciting initiative bringing together employers, policymakers and experts to explore the latest evidence on ‘what works’ in promoting workplace innovation and fair work. We hope that a wide range of employers and stakeholders will be able to come along to one the Masterclasses or just link to our blogs and other resources at our dedicated LinkedIn Discussion Forum.

Work and workplaces are going to be crucial to achieving Scotland’s objectives around sustainable innovation, fair work and inclusive growth. Fair and innovative workplaces can engage employees by focusing on good quality jobs that utilise their skills and develop their talents. The evidence suggests that employees supported in this way, in turn, deliver high levels of performance and future innovation. Our team is delighted to be working with Scotland’s employers as we build the fair and innovative workplaces of the future.

This blog was first published on the Innovating Works website

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