Innovation is the third topic that was consistently at the top of the agenda for the businesses that attended Scala’s International Development Programme, and amongst our speakers, and the companies we visited. (Please click here for the other two on culture, and career planning.) Here are some key points that emerged.


Innovation is crucial to business survival. Everyone agrees on this point. Innovation at the workplace covers a wide spectrum from continuous, incremental improvement through to disruptive innovation that well … disrupts the existing order of things, or renders existing products obsolete. It is hard to plan for innovation but you can, and indeed must create the conditions that will enable innovation. For some this is about building innovation into the culture of the whole business. For others, it is about creating a special innovation unit within the existing more traditionally focused business.


Key starter questions to understand how ready your organization is to embrace innovation are: what happens when people get ideas? Do they get listened to and examined? Do they get the opportunity to try them out? Or do they fall to the bottom of the ‘to do list’? Or worse, do people only put forward ideas that will make it through the system? If people experiment, what happens when they fail? Does this count against them?


These questions cover two key concepts that must be in place: the first is trust. People must have a safe place to fail. In fact, people should be rewarded for experimenting. As innovation specialist, Elvin Turner emphasised “ you must define trust, build it, and defend it.’


The second concept is that people at all levels must be encouraged to spot opportunity and bring this into the organization. This requires leadership from the top that promotes ‘shared visions, shared values, and shared understanding of the strategic direction.’1This leadership model provides the clarity, structure and meaning that are essential foundation stones of innovation.


Turner also emphasised that “People don’t buy products, they buy progress in a specific context” For example: it was not about improving the record player, but recognising that people wanted to access their music at any time, and in any place.


Turner believes HR has a key role in encouraging people to move from a product mindset to a ‘progress’ mindset. For example, HR can start a conversation about the progress it needs to deliver to the business. HR can also introduce experimentation into training programmes. These two actions, along with ensuring there is the right kind of trust in place, can make a huge contribution to the future of the organization.


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1 Caplan, J, Strategic Talent Development, Kogan Page, 2014.

Janice Caplan

2 May 2018   

©Copyright Janice Caplan 2018