Great Workplaces Need Great Learning

I am so concerned with making workplaces better places that Henry Stewart and I have built a ‘great workplaces’ programme where we will work with participants to make a difference; and guarantee that.  That is putting our money where our mouth is! You can find out more here 

In Ernst and Young’s latest edition of Performance there is a great article on innovation called Innovating from within. The sub-title offers us the meat of the content:  “Businesses need to focus more on the link between innovation, organisational structure and culture, which are key drivers for any successful venture” .  When we look at innovation it is rare that that the critical link between a culture of innovation and the product of innovation is emphasised.  But I have found that innovation is directly related to the quality of the workplace, the extent of shared values and purpose, and how staff feel about their employer.  In my experience, in hundreds of organisations, I have yet to find a miserable workplace with unhappy staff that is, nevertheless, innovative and creative.  The two things: an engaged workforce and the emergence of great ideas, must be linked: engaged workforce, great ideas emerging. Ernst and Young details this in the article.

Their conclusion is that “innovating successfully requires employees who buy into the leadership’s beliefs and values, and a management structure that supports innovation. It also relies on the allocation of funds, staff training and an IT platform to capture, manage and share ideas being generated.” Shared values seems an obvious goal but it is often ignored. Some companies seem to feel that innovation can be delivered by edict! Or by the appointment of a Director of Innovation.  That is all so much noise, signifying nothing. 

We can unpack the points made in the article.  Successful innovation has a number of prerequisites:

Shared beliefs and values
Supportive management structure
Allocation of appropriate resources
Learning and Development
A way of capturing and sharing ideas

Does learning have a role here?  If you look at the five bullets, three directly involve learning and development.  It is, surely, part of the Land D role to help embed the culture of an organisation from the minute an employee joins the company. It is a key and increasingly important role for L and D to stimulate ideas, challenge existing practice and create an environment where groups meet to deal with issues and problems, whether that is online or face to face or even just to think out loud or be challenged with new ideas.  Think about Pixar University which offers programmes unrelated to animation, but stimulating and challenging for staff.  It gets people from across the organisation to engage with one another; it fires in ideas and creates a forum for debate and a crucible for developing those ideas into innovation in the workspace.

There is a happy circle here.  Help culture embed; help ideas grow, facilitate cross workplace communication, bring in new ideas from outside and you set down the seedbed for innovation AND create the basis for a great working environment.  The better the environment gets, the more innovation occurs and so on.

I really can’t imagine how any organisation will survive in this world if it fails to innovate. Rowan Gibson who wrote Innovation to the Core claims that innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage. So an L and D team that does not see the need to sustain innovation and build a better workplace as part of its role, is on a shoogly hook (as they say in Glasgow).  These ideas are not nice to have, or the extras we eventually get round to, but the core of what the function is all about. And Ernst and Young agree with me.

* Performance Preview is available as a printed magazine, an excellent iPad app and online.

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3 Responses to “Great Workplaces Need Great Learning” - Leave a Comment

  1. Nigel – congratulations on launching your great workplaces programme. There is no doubt that the world needs it. You are so right that most attempts at innovation are just tales told by idiots. And that an unhappy workplace will never thrive. As the leader of a successful growing global learning technologies innovator I know the only way we can continue to survive and thrive is with happy, engaged employees. Since I recently shifted my focus to this I have noticed an improvement not only in workplace atmosphere but also in performance. My new job title summarizes the importance I give to this: Chief Happiness Officer & CEO.

  2. Thanks for the comment Ara and good luck with Certpoint. It is certainly a company on the right agenda at the moment and doing well.

  3. Hi Nigel, financial institutions rarely focus on this and perhaps that was why the financial crisis hit us due to their lack of values and a “great workplace”. What’s in the head of these organisations are just about running the mill and reap as much as they can in the name of “maximising shareholders’ value”. In my view, this is perhaps due to the lack of “learning friendly” ecosystem which is a result of the way leaders behave in the organisation.

    What I shall be doing for 2013 is to have more conversations and engagement with the working level, your leaders and if possible with the senior management on making “the bank a great workplace”, encourages learning and innovation and tearing down the silos.

    Thanks for the great post Nigel.

    Best regards


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