Employee experience as a fuel for innovation

Do you wish your employees to engage and innovate more? Then ensure you have supportive organisational culture.

In the previous blog post, we showed how happy employees could improve the customer experience. In this article, we concentrate on creating a culture where people are willing to go the extra mile to play their part in developing the tools and processes that make them happy employees and where innovation thrives from top to bottom.

I dare say that many of us have experienced how the tools we use in our daily work do not meet our needs or help us excel in our roles. This might be because the end user’s voice was not heard while developing them.

Well-designed technical tools and processes can support the employees to serve the customers better and make their work more enjoyable. Getting diamond development ideas from the end users profiting from the new solutions is vital to creating well-oiled solutions that help us improve the customer experience. But who are those end users, and how could they get their voices heard and all their hidden developer skills surfaced?

Value of the first-hand experience

Innovation is a critical element in system development. Most development projects aim not to replicate an old solution to a new platform but to figure out new and better ways to do things in the future. Innovating new solutions requires out-of-the-box thinking and challenging old ways of working. New solutions will change many people’s everyday work experience, and being a part of that change might feel overwhelming or exciting for those participating in the development project, depending on the company’s culture.

Innovation thrives in an environment where people are motivated to go the extra mile and are encouraged to speak up. If an organisation does not accept failure and operates with strict top-down management, many people may feel they don’t have ownership of their work, nor can they challenge the decisions made at the top. Innovations in these environments are scarce because their employees lack engagement and are unwilling to do anything outside their usual responsibilities.

Developing customer service tools would greatly benefit from the expertise of those who work daily with them. However, for a customer service specialist to take part in developing the tool will require them to step out of their comfort zone, learn new skills or even see themselves from a different perspective. If the person is neither intrinsically motivated nor highly engaged, they might not be willing to participate in the development project.

Especially many people working at the “bottom” of the organisation might not feel that their skills and know-how are appreciated. Because their work is often not thought of as challenging and important but rather as a mandatory cost, they might become quite disengaged. They lack motivation and self-efficacy, and a role in a development project might be an overwhelming challenge. If the employer sees them as low-value employees, they learn to see themselves like that and do not dare to share their ideas but rather concentrate on getting by.

On the other hand, if they feel that their work is appreciated and they are trusted to take on more challenging tasks, they might learn to trust that they can learn new skills and become valuable innovators.

How to create an innovative organisation

The organisational culture creates a base for innovation. In an organisation where innovation is thriving, the management does not see themselves as almighty decision makers but has learned to listen and appreciate the employees with everyday experiences and insights they might not have. Managers must listen to and trust their employees.

Increasing innovativeness in an organisation requires high employee engagement and motivation. This is not an easy task, but understanding the individual’s values and needs can make the employees passionate and ready to work harder to reach their goals or even go beyond. In an organisation where the employees do not need to use their energy to survive but feel appreciated, valued and heard, they are more motivated to work hard to help the employer to do better. In such organisations, there is more space for wild ideas and innovation.

What is it then that makes people make an effort to develop? In an ideal situation, when people are intrinsically motivated, they get the motivation from their tasks. It, however, requires that the job offers them a sufficient level of challenge, Goals are clear, there’s enough time, failure is accepted, and there are no interruptions. If the challenge is too low, a person might experience that their skills are not appreciated, and if it is too big, they might get overwhelmed.

It is not always only the positive experiences which motivate people. Often the most memorable experiences people have from their careers might have been challenges they have solved. In their book Employee Experience by Design, Bridger and Gannaway introduce the peak-end rule for understanding what people usually remember when asked about the experience later on. They tend to remember the most intensive moments and the end. Those are the moments that should be identified and leveraged. That can be done by ensuring individuals get to do challenging tasks to help them learn something new. Still, the task should not be impossible for them to avoid the feeling of failure and reluctance to try similar tasks again in the future. Completing such tasks will increase their motivation and self-confidence, demonstrate that their skills are trusted, and make them more engaged with their work. If a person is engaged with their employer, they are more willing to take the interpersonal risk of speaking up about their ideas.

Create a Culture of Trust

Trust is the most critical pillar in company culture, which increases innovation. Trusting that the employees have the company’s best interests in mind when working and ensuring they have the autonomy to make decisions on their own is an excellent influencer on whether people innovate in the organisation.

The second pillar is transparency on what is going on in the company, why specific changes are necessary and how changes might affect the people working there. Transparency is crucial when there is a need to get people involved in ideating how to develop operations. If they do not understand the benefits it will bring, they might prefer not to share their ideas.

Psychological safety plays a crucial role in successful organisation cultures and happy employees. Good leadership structure, well-defined tasks, team goals and sufficient knowledge and resources for doing them are vital in creating teams where people can be at their best. Innovation capacity is higher in a group where members experience a high level of psychological safety. Co-creation thrives when people can challenge each other and acknowledge their need for learning and getting help from others.

The development of new ways of working always requires challenging the old. It is an interpersonal risk to the employees, driving change and criticising the old ways of work. If a company culture does not support taking such risks, it might hinder the employees’ willingness to participate in development. In a psychologically safe organisation, people are more prepared to take that risk, which will increase the level of innovation in that organisation.

We can all take the role of a leader and do our part in creating an innovative environment within our team. Even though management sets the guidelines for the culture, everybody in the company plays a role in it. All teams have their sub-cultures, and all of us can affect the culture of our team as we all influence the everyday experience our colleagues have and how open they are to speaking up, even the wildest of their ideas. Those innovations could benefit our employers and make our daily work more fun.

Hanna-Mari Itäkylä

Solution Consultant


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