How to engage employees on your innovation journey

Commonwealth Bank’s 2019 Business Insights report drills down into what kind of training best helps workers adapt and thrive in today’s era of intense competition, rapidly changing technology, and ever increasing efficiency demands.

Evolving customer expectations are driving organisations to implement change across all areas of their businesses, according to the report, titled Adapting to change and preparing for the future. The report suggests that 58 per cent of organisations are what it calls Innovation-Active in 2019, in comparison to 44 per cent in 2017.

The benefits of being innovative are clear according to the report, especially around establishing a competitive edge: 45 per cent of businesses believe technology enables staff to deliver better customer service, and 33 per cent believe it allows them to generate more revenue. However, 29 per cent believe that it increases the need for specialist staff.

What makes a successful innovation journey?

Innovation-Active companies differentiate themselves in a number of ways from what the report calls ‘Improver’ companies. Improver companies make improvements rather than implement widespread change. Innovator companies, by contrast, demonstrate their awareness of the opportunities and threats they face from customer expectations. For example, 40 per cent of Innovation-Active companies focus on people factors versus 28 per cent of Improvers.

Harnessing people factors by developing a strong culture, updating training and development practices, or implementing flexible workforce practices, may help you take advantage of market opportunities that will better place you to meet your customers’ expectations.

Only 51 per cent of all employees, versus 62 per cent for those in innovative companies, believe their organisation makes full use of staff skills. This highlights not just the difference between innovative companies and the rest of the pack, but also the opportunity for all organisations to better leverage and develop their employees’ skill sets to drive change.

Is your training program effective?

How businesses bring their employees on their innovation journey varies widely. One common way is to invest in training and development programs. But while this is important, only 44 per cent of employees feel such programs are effective. It’s worth noting that this approval rating is  higher (58 per cent) for those in Innovation-Active companies. Businesses are continuing to invest in this area, however, with 27 per cent expecting to increase their training budget in the next 12 months and 67 per cent maintaining current expenditure.

Still, the number of employees who believe training programs are effective suggests businesses could be doing more to align what they offer staff to what employees want. According to 57 per cent of employees, the most effective training is informal, on-the-job training. And 43 per cent place a greater importance on the role of mentoring than on what their company currently offers. Forty-two per cent of employees rate internal workshops and industry forums highly. However, digital training programs such as games and simulations are considered less effective: only 22 per cent of respondents found these beneficial.

It’s important to take note of this staff feedback if you want employees to come with you on your journey. Developing the key strengths, skills and capabilities that your employees need, and doing it in a way that they like, will help you adapt to emerging customer threats and opportunities. It also gives staff a sense of autonomy over their career direction. Well-supported employees enjoy greater job satisfaction, according to the report.

The message is that a more engaged, empowered and skilled workforce creates a winning combination for both you and your staff.

To assist, the Australian Government has a number of resources to help you on your innovation journey, including how to develop effective staff training programs.