Innovation at work is the foundation of a company’s competitive advantage.

Companies that spend time and effort in creating value through more effective products, services or processes are in a better position to adapt to a changing market. Those that are committed to continuously improving and innovating tend to appeal to creative and entrepreneurial employees enabling them to to attract and hold on to their best talent.  

Companies can encourage and teach employees how to innovate at work in a variety of ways. Here’s how you can embrace innovation at work:  

Flatten the hierarchy
Successful innovation at work requires effective collaboration with leaders and across different teams. These interactions are a catalyst for sharing knowledge and achieving successful breakthroughs. A flat structure allows employees at every level to be empowered to take action and decisions are made faster.

Leverage diversity
Diversity can push employees to be innovative at work. People with different backgrounds and perspectives bring different frames of reference to a problem. This sparks a dynamic exchange of ideas – a prerequisite for innovation which thrives when you hire for diversity and commit to building an inclusive environment where everyone has a voice.

Create time and space for innovation
Be intentional in giving people the space and time to work on innovative ideas. Physical and virtual spaces that provide people with the necessary resources to collaborate will also really help. Companies should also give employees designated time to innovate. Google follows the 70-20-10 model of innovation. Employees spend 70% of their time in day-to-day work, 20% of their time on work improvements and 10% of their time on experiments and innovative projects. By formally freeing up chunks of time for experimentation, employees are encouraged to think of innovative ideas. 

Nurture psychological safety
Studies have shown that a psychologically safe environment allows team members to take calculated risks, speak their minds, and be creative – leading to breakthrough ideas. To cultivate a psychologically safe space for teams, team managers should normalise being vulnerable. When managers are open about their own setbacks and learnings, team members can feel more free and safe to experiment, fail, and try again.

Embrace experimentation
Innovation is a trial and error process. Companies that empower their employees to experiment and take risks are in a better position to learn and innovate. One way of doing this can be by dedicating a few days every quarter to experimentation and innovation at work. Companies can put together teams of people with different expertise who work together towards specific goals and cross-pollinate ideas.

Create constraints
This might sound counterintuitive but it can help! Research shows that constraints can in fact improve innovation at work by motivating people and helping them focus. On the other hand, little to no constraints breed complacency and hinder innovation. There are many ways companies and managers can create constraints that lead to innovation. For example, they could cap resources or provide product or service guidelines.

By creating a space where employees can put across their diverse points of view, experiment, learn from failure and are empowered to take actions, companies can really make a difference to their innovation programs within their work environment.

Demanding work environments and the impact of the pandemic have skyrocketed the need for employee wellbeing programs. A recent survey showed that employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three needs from their companies.

In Gartner’s 2020 employee wellbeing survey, they showed that 46% of US companies increased their budgets in 2020 from 2019. Despite that, the engagement with these programs have been low. For example, only 23% of employees use emotional wellbeing support – such as access to therapists – offered by their company.

This highlights the big disconnect between a company’s wellbeing initiatives and what employees actually want. Why spend money on wellbeing programs that go unused?

Successful employee wellbeing frameworks have a positive impact on employee health, engagement, and retention. Companies that are able to do the most to promote successful employee wellbeing programs have lower turnover to those that put in least efforts towards such employee wellbeing initiatives.

So what are employee wellbeing best practices and how can we increase access to and engagement in the programs that are created by companies?

Assess employee needs and get feedback to measure the impact

Before coming up with a wellbeing program, companies should understand the needs and goals of their employees. Running a company-wide survey or conducting focus group conversations can give employees the opportunity to share their current challenges and the elements of employee wellbeing that are most important to them (physical, emotional, financial etc.). Additionally, measuring impact is crucial. Creating employee wellbeing metrics that are measurable and attainable should be part of any employee wellbeing program. To measure these metrics, a simple pulse survey run over time can help get insights and feedback on how people are doing.

Increase awareness on benefits of employee wellbeing

For a program to be successful, employees need to be aware of it. Too often, employees forget the benefits they have access to. Companies can remind employees of the programs available and increase knowledge of the wellbeing efforts by leveraging the influence and connections of their team managers. Managers have greater access to their teams. Through regular check-ins, they can also get insights about their team’s wellbeing needs, and help personalise the available offerings.

Personalise

This is a great way to empower employees to own their wellbeing! When employees find tailored solutions to their unique challenges, they can be more motivated to utilise the offerings. One-to-one coaching for employees is a powerful tool to enable this. Coaches provide a safe and confidential space which honors the individual’s strengths and helps them successfully navigate through their road-blocks and unique challenges.

Create space and time to participate

If employees are always busy with work, they are unlikely to have the time or energy to participate in any company initiatives. By integrating wellbeing into everyday practices, companies can increase employee participation and help them reap the benefits of such efforts. One way of doing this is to incorporate company-wide or team-wide breaks into employees calendars to participate in the company’s employee wellbeing offerings.

Normalise seeking support

Even with good employee wellbeing programs in place, people may not want to access them for fear of being judged. Leaders should walk the talk, share their own experiences and challenges around wellbeing, as well as participate in the offerings themselves. This will empower people to have open and honest conversations around employee wellbeing and participate in such offerings.

Companies can boost engagement in employee wellbeing programs by incorporating their employees’ needs, proactively demonstrating the benefits of such initiatives, and empowering them to own their wellbeing.

Cognitive diversity – the differences in how people think, process information and solve problems – is crucial for high functioning teams.

Teams with cognitive diversity are able to solve complex problems faster, perform better1, as well as exhibit more creativity and innovation2.

Teams that have diversity of thought and ideas are able to tackle new and uncertain situations more successfully. To date, companies have predominantly focused only on demographic diversity – such as age, gender, orientation and ethnicity. These are certainly facets that can enable diversity of thought, but companies should do more to include diverse perspectives in their teams. Without this, companies and teams can fall prey to “groupthink” – where people strive for agreement and harmony. Groupthink can stifle critical thinking and innovation, necessary to survive in today’s competitive landscape.

Here are a few ways companies can foster an inclusive environment that promotes and celebrates cognitive diversity:

Build psychological safety
Psychological safety is the belief that you will not be judged or punished for expressing your ideas, concerns or mistakes. Without behaviors that create and maintain a level of psychological safety in a group, not everyone fully contributes and the power of cognitive diversity is left unrealised. One way to create psychological safety is by normalising vulnerability. When leaders openly talk about failures and share their experiences – both positive and negative, it helps open up a non-judgmental space for honest and open communication, and people feel safe expressing their authentic selves.

Hire with diversity of thought in mind
We all have unconscious biases. These biases can affect hiring decisions. Companies have to be intentional in seeking out and hiring team members with diverse styles and approaches. One way to do this is to recruit and hire for talent that have strengths and skills that are not strongly represented in the current team. Hiring people with different educational backgrounds, specialisations or industry experience can also bring in unique perspectives and problem solving skills that increase performance.

Assess your teams
Assessments that help measure and understand people’s natural preferences, unique strengths and behaviours can give companies and managers insight on how to best leverage the talent of their teams . This can be a great way to create and benefit from a cognitively diverse team. For example, getting insights on people’s strengths can help managers create teams with complementary strengths and skills that lead to high performance and better problem solving.

Normalise conflict
In order to truly benefit from diverse perspectives, companies and managers should create a collaborative and stimulating environment that welcomes different opinions. Managers of diverse teams should be encouraged to re-think the idea of conflict and shift their perspective from seeing differences in opinion as a problem, to viewing them as constructive. A well-managed diverse team is encouraged to engage in constructive conflict that questions assumptions, pushes creative thinking, while upholding the end goal of coming up with the best solution to problems they are trying to solve.

In a work environment that is rapidly changing, promoting diverse thinking styles is key to building an innovative and agile culture. Supporting a cognitively diverse environment takes strong company leadership that is not afraid to re-think and question assumptions, empower their people and as a result, stay ahead of the curve.

1 Reynolds, A. and Lewis, D. (2017). Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse. [online] Harvard Business Review.
2 Torchia, M., Calabrò, A. and Morner, M. (2015). Board of Directors’ Diversity, Creativity, and Cognitive Conflict. International Studies of Management & Organization, 45(1), pp.6–24.

As discussed in our previous article, “The Great Resignation” is plaguing companies.

We highlighted that this phenomenon is at its highest when employees are not engaged and listed a few key causes, including lack of development opportunities, increased levels of burnout, and the shift in overall mindset towards prioritising a life of purpose. The economic environment also provides for more opportunities and gives employees a sense that if they resign something better will be available.

Compensation is certainly not the main reason for people leaving their company. Studies also show that high levels of employee engagement can reduce turnover by up to 65%1. Thriving cultures provide for an environment that fosters strong bonds, gives people a sense of belonging and positively influences engagement.

So, if you want to keep your talent, does it not make sense to cultivate a culture where teams are highly engaged and feel committed to their work and company?

Check-in with your employees

Scheduling one-on-one interactions with each team member to check-in on topics work related and not, helps people feel a sense of connection. Whether you are in a virtual set-up or on-site, team members yearn for the opportunity to be heard and seen. Managers should create a dialogue where both parties are at ease to share their experiences, concerns and vulnerabilities.

This helps relate to team members’ situations, in other words, to be empathetic. By understanding a team member’s unique needs, wants and expectations you can shape the actions that make them feel supported, allow them to show up authentically and feel accepted.

Normalise purpose at work

A Mckinsey study found that 63% of employees want their employers to provide more opportunities to find meaning and purpose in their work2. Understanding what drives each of your team members will help you be a more efficient leader. Give your team opportunities to craft certain aspects of their work, to align with their unique strengths and values.

Be generous in your praise

Recognition is a powerful way to boost employee morale3. Employees want to feel that the work they do is meaningful and it ties back to the overall company’s success. High-recognition culture companies have been shown to have 31% lower voluntary turnover compared to companies with a poor recognition culture4. One way to do this is by encouraging and creating a space for peer-to-peer recognition. This is an inclusive way for companies to encourage employees at every level to participate in cultivating a supportive culture.

Prioritise learning and development

In it’s 2020 study, the Work Institute found lack of career development opportunities as the most popular reason to leave a company5. Since employees are key to their own learning, take a collaborative approach and empower them to drive their own learning and development. One-to-one coaching can be a great solution. It provides employees with a completely tailored safe space to supercharge their career.

Offer flexibility and control

The prevalence of stress and burnout during the pandemic has pushed people to strive for a better work-life balance. A study has shown that employees are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have a choice in deciding what tasks to work on, when to do them as well as how much time to spend on them. Another survey shows that 54% of employees would consider leaving if they didn’t have flexibility in where and when they worked6. Companies need to be responsive to the needs of their people and make flexibility and control a part of their new return-to-work strategy.

The pending resignation wave is an awakening for companies to take a proactive approach towards fostering engagement and building a culture defined by meaningful work, support and deep connections. This puts them in the best position possible to retain their employees and prevent the effects of “The Great Resignation”.

1 Sorenson, S., 2021. How employee engagement drives growth. Gallup.com.
2 Dhingra, N. et al., 2021. Help your employees find purpose–or watch them leave. McKinsey & Company.
3 O’Flaherty, S., Sanders, M. and Whillans, A. 2021. Research: A Little Recognition Can Provide a Big Morale Boost. [online] Harvard Business Review.
4 Deloitte Insights. 2015. Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement. Deloitte [online]
5 T. F. Mahan, D.A. Nelms, Y.Jeeun, A.Jackson, M.Hein, and R.Moffett., 2020 . 2020 Retention Report: Trends, Reasons & Wake Up Call. Franklin. TN: Work Institute, 2020
6 Work Reimagined Global Employee Survey – Key findings and implications for ICMIF. 2021. [online] Ernst & Young.

“The Great Resignation” is a term coined by management professor Anthony Klotz. It refers to the idea that a large number of people are considering leaving their job as the pandemic eases.

There is mounting evidence that supports this prediction. According to the US department of labour, a total of 11.5 million workers quit their jobs between April-June 2021.1 Microsoft’s research has found that 41% of the global workforce is considering quitting their current jobs2 and Gallup has found that 48% employees are actively looking for new opportunities, specifically employees who are not engaged or are actively disengaged.3

Such drastic turnover is disruptive and expensive. It reflects a clear mismatch between what companies are providing, and the expectations employees have.

Why is this happening?

Purpose is a priority
For many people, the time spent at home during the pandemic – either due to lockdowns or remote working – has caused them to rethink their current work situation. Many people are re-assessing their goals and what it means to live life meaningfully. As a result of this, people globally are making major life changes to find work that helps them feel happy and fulfilled.

Lack of growth opportunities
According to a report by LinkedIn learning, 94% of employees say they would stay longer in their company if it invested in their learning and development.4 During the peak of the pandemic, personal development and career growth took a backseat. Promotion rates hit an all time low last year.5 Naturally, people are now striving to regain control over their growth and development.

High levels of burnout
A recent study indicates that 52% of employees feel burned out.6 The sudden shift to remote working, or the compulsion of going into work at the cost of safety has  resulted in a struggle to find work-life balance.  Heavy workloads, and a surge in responsibilities due to lay-off’s have also caused people to experience stress, disengagement and burnout. This has prompted people to prioritise their health and wellbeing, and take some time off to recuperate.

The great resignation presents a big challenge. Just as companies were beginning to see the light at the end of the pandemic and move forward with their growth plans, they now have to deal with the departure of some of their best people. Reversing this tide requires companies to empathise with their employees’ experiences and create a culture that promotes employee engagement.

Keep an eye out for part two of this article, where we will share how you can build a culture of high engagement, where employees are motivated to stay.

1data.bls.gov. (n.d.). Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. [online]
2www.microsoft.com. (2021). The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?
3Gandhi, V. and Robinson, J., 2021. The ‘Great Resignation’ Is Really the ‘Great Discontent‘. [online] Gallup.com.
4LinkedIn Learning, 2021. Workplace Learning Report. [online] LinkedIn.
5Anders, G., 2020. Working hard, just to stay in place; job promotions this year slump 40%. [online] Linkedin.com.
6Threlkeld, K., 2021. Employee Burnout Report: COVID-19’s Impact and 3 Strategies to Curb It. [online] Indeed.com.

Today, a coaching style of management is the competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones1.

A coaching style of management has been shown to unleash the team’s energy and steer them towards peak performance and innovation.

But what does it mean to have a coaching style of management? There are a few ways managers can do this:

Ask and listen
Asking questions and actively listening are at the heart of effective coaching conversations, so use these skills to complement your management style. Insightful and open-ended questions that start with “why”, “how” or “tell me more about(…)” can trigger critical thinking and problem solving skills. Actively listening to what the other person has to say with an open mind helps create deeper connections that invite frank discussions and creative thinking that can help uncover root causes of problems.

Let others put forward their own solution
As managers, it is often tempting to share expertise and provide solutions to a problem, and this can be very helpful when it’s sought from you. Having said this, people are more committed to their actions and feel accountable for the impact when they personally resonate with the action plan. The solution should come from them first.

Recognise and utilise strengths
People who use their strengths are 6 times more engaged, perform better and are less likely to leave2. One way managers can identify strengths is to ask their team members questions such as,“What was the best day at work you’ve had in the last few months?”. Managers can also give employees opportunities to “job craft” – redesign aspects of their work and projects to play to their strengths and interests.

Lead with empathy
The ability to understand and connect with people, and see from their perspective – empathy – is a superpower in coaching conversations and relationships. Empathy is one of the most important drivers of overall performance amongst managers3. One-to-one coaching can help enhance this skill. Through ongoing dialogue, feedback and accountability, coaching helps increase self-awareness and helps managers (and others) champion change in their teams and companies.

Adopting a coaching style of management helps increase collaboration and engagement between team members. Managers can help their teams flourish by supporting them in their learning and helping them develop competencies that aid them both at work as well as outside.

1Garvin, D.A., 2019. How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review.
2Sorenson, S., 2020. How employees’ strengths make your company stronger. Gallup.
3Gentry, W., Weber, T. and Sadri, G., 2011. Empathy in the Workplace A Tool for Effective Leadership. [online] Cclinnovation.org.

In 2020, companies spent $357.7 billion globally on Learning and Development (“L&D”) 1, yet 75% of employees believe that the training they receive does not improve their performance 2. A 2018 study by Gartner found that 70% of employees feel they do not have the necessary skills to do their job 3.

This would imply that the majority of the money companies spend on training is a waste. Where is the disconnect?

Most often, decisions around L&D rest with a central function because they feel that they know where their employees’ skills gap lies. They fail to factor in that employees are the primary key to their own learning. When employees are empowered to have a say in their own development, they are more motivated to learn, and L&D spend is more impactful. Without employee buy-in, chances are that commitment towards learning will be low.

How can companies empower their employees to take charge of their learning in an impactful way?

Personalise the experience
When it comes to personal development, there is no one-size-fits-all. Learning needs differ based on an individual’s experience, seniority, motivations, interests, profile. Personalising L&D to individuals is more impactful. One-on-one coaching, or providing employees with a library of digital courses to choose from, are ways companies can personalise their L&D.

Digitalise learning
Online learning works best for today’s workplaces, and 60% of employees prefer self-paced learning 4. Instead of signing up employees for an hour long in-person training session, give them access to online learning resources and content. This ensures that employees have flexibility over when and where they learn as well as offering a variety of tools to address their unique needs.

Seek employee feedback
To ensure that training is aligned with employee expectations, ask for their input. You can do this through company wide surveys or focus group discussions. This feedback can help improve the impact of L&D practices.

Take a collaborative approach
While this may already be part of the process, it is important to have a strong collaboration between managers and L&D professionals to make available to employees the most impactful development tools.

To keep up with the ever-evolving business landscape, companies need to equip their employees with skills and resources. One-to-one coaching takes into account the individual’s experience levels, strengths, motivations and their unique career paths. This is a great way to empower employees to be proactive with their development and to also ensure long-term success of both the individual and their companies.

1 Statista. (2021). Market size of the global workplace training industry from 2007 to 2020. [online]
2 Smet, A.D., Mcgurk, M. & Schwartz, E., 2018. Getting more from your training programs. McKinsey & Company.
3 Anon, 2018. Setting L&D leaders up for success – human resources. Gartner.
4 Lefkowitz, R. and Pate, D. (2918). 2018, Workplace Learning Report The Rise and Responsibility of Talent Development in the New Labor Market. [online] Linkedin Learning.

Agility and innovation have to be a priority for companies to survive in today’s dynamic environment.

Ground-breaking discoveries often result from challenging established ways of thinking or doing, but people generally feel that to fit in, they need to conform.

Companies need to nurture their rebels and encourage innovative thinking.

In her ground-breaking research, Francesca Gino found that making space for a form of rebelling that challenges existing norms led to innovation and higher productivity. She has called this form of rebellion “Constructive Nonconformity1.

Companies can create space for Constructive Nonconformity:

Embrace constructive dissent
Conformity is common because it is rewarded when conflicts and differences are often seen as problems. However, different ideas and perspectives are crucial for innovation. To welcome and encourage constructive dissent, create a safe space where you invite criticism and constant communication by embracing the ‘why?‘ and ‘what if?‘.

Give employees opportunities to be authentic
Studies show that those who are able to show up authentically at work are on average more engaged 2. Employees who feel safe to express their ideas and working styles will feel comfortable challenging decisions and practices they may disagree with.

Reward innovative thinking
Creating a culture of innovative thinking is about empowering people to take risks and drive change. To enable this, celebrate discoveries but also embrace failures as learning opportunities rather than judging them.

Create opportunities to innovate
People feel motivated to perform well and innovate when their work involves challenges and they feel mentally energised. One way of doing this is by having “innovation challenges” to provide people with opportunities to work on projects and indulge in creative problem solving.

Cultivating constructive rebellion allows companies to prosper. Companies should look at designing cultures that have a balance of structure and freedom that enables people to do their best work. This will increase and support engagement, productivity, and innovation while ensuring agility in a competitive world.

1 Gino, F. (2016, October 24). Let Your Workers Rebel. Harvard Business Review.
2 Cable, D.M. & Kay, V.S., (2012). Striving for Self-Verification during Organizational Entry.
Academy of Management Journal, 55(2), pp.360–380.

We are all wired to make automatic assumptions about people.

Biases are a natural part of our thinking. These mental shortcuts are necessary for human survival as it helps us sort through infinite information to make quick decisions. Sadly, the same process can also lead to flawed judgements and actions.

Biases pose big challenges on our mission to build an inclusive company culture. A 2017 study showed that those who perceived biased judgements either towards them or their colleagues were twice as likely to not feel proud of working for their company, three times as likely to think of leaving within the year, and four times as likely to report feeling alienated at work(1).

While it is impossible to eliminate all of our biases, there are some ways our biases can be managed to limit their damaging effects.

Acknowledge your biases:
Acknowledging that we all have biases is the first step towards working on them. Ask yourself “What biases might I have?”, “What impact does this have on how I act and what do I do about it?”. One-to-one coaching is an effective way to build awareness of our biases and blind spots. Through constant dialogue and accountability, it can challenge us to overcome counterproductive patterns of thinking and acting.

Be curious:
Challenge assumptions and biases by nurturing a sense of curiosity. Being curious pushes us to question our fixed mindsets and assumptions, and become aware of our own privileges. This helps us cultivate deeper connections with people by asking insightful questions, truly listening to responses and building relationships.

Communicate effectively:
Despite our best intentions, our messages can get misinterpreted. Part of successful communication is being able to adapt our style in order to get our point across while still maintaining positive relationships. Practicing inclusive language can help communicate more effectively and sensitively.

Use gender neutral language as much as possible, such as switching from words like “chairman” to “chairperson”, and address people with their right pronouns. These are a few ways we can ensure we don’t use words or phrases that communicate stereotypes.

Seek exposure:
Seeking out people who are from different backgrounds to us or our close circle can help expand our outlook. The more we expose ourselves to different perspectives, the more we can educate ourselves about the world around us.

By working on broadening our mindsets, drawing well thought out conclusions from existing facts and norms as well as constantly questioning how we and others around us make decisions, we can contribute to an inclusive work culture in which diversity can thrive.

(1) Hewlett, S., Rashid, R. and Sherbin, L., 2017. When Employees Think the Boss Is Unfair, They’re More Likely to Disengage and Leave. [online] Harvard Business Review.

The “new normal” at work is transitioning to a hybrid set-up.

Gallup’s research shows that nearly 65% of US workers who worked remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so. This poses challenges that need to be accounted for.

The differences in physical and virtual locations can contribute to unequal access to information and resources, as well as differences in opportunities to interact face-to-face with colleagues. This can result in some people receiving more recognition than others, as well as creating feelings of exclusion.

There are steps companies can take to successfully establish a hybrid work culture that is sustainable long-term:

Commit to fairness
Research by MIT shows that there is a negative impact on performance evaluations, appraisals and promotion opportunities for remote workers compared to their colleagues who work in the office(1). This happens due to passive facetime – crediting people more on the basis of being seen at work, rather than their actual performance. To ensure fair evaluations, define clear KPIs that account for these differences in visibility.

Making the performance evaluation process as data driven as possible can also help reduce the risk of biases cropping up while assessing performance.

Focus on a shared purpose
Focusing on a shared vision and goals ensures alignment and engagement. Bring teams together for strategic planning sessions. Reinstate and clarify how everyone’s skills and responsibilities uniquely tie to the long-term vision and goals of the company.

Foster connectivity
Things that once drove informal office cultures such as casual and friendly chats around communal areas, should be reformatted to encourage a connection between remote and in-person teams. This could mean replacing coffee breaks with virtual team chats or celebrating milestones and achievements that allow team members to form social bonds.

Rethink psychological safety
Psychological safety has been a strong predictor of team effectiveness. The hybrid work environment can give way to biases and judgments around where and how people prefer to work. Be understanding and supportive of people’s working styles and preferences, as well as frequently checking in and communicating with them. This creates an inclusive, safe and trusting environment.

Prioritise professional development
Commit to developing your teams and help them be more agile and resilient in the face of dynamic changes. Professional coaching is one way to do this. The personalised nature of one-to-one coaching takes into account employees’ unique experiences and recognises their strengths. This helps them feel truly engaged, empowered and supports their wellbeing.

Companies need to be responsive to the changing work landscape, and commit to a fair and inclusive workplace culture in order to be successful. This will drive and sustain performance, engagement and ensure agility.

(1) Elsbach, K. and Newberry, S., 2021. Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. [online] MIT Sloan Management Review.

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