Why innovating your workplace matters as much as innovating for your customers

By Dr Amantha Imber.

When most companies think of innovation, they think about what ideas they could launch to their customers. That is, people outside of their organisation. And the majority of innovation efforts are focused on improving what is delivered to this customer.

However, this myopic focus on innovation being externally focused ignores the other ‘customer’ group that is critical in the functioning of any organisation: employees. Innovating the workplace experience for employees, keeping them engaged, and retaining top talent needs to become a bigger focus for companies’ innovation efforts. Here are three areas that organisations can start to innovate from within.

Be more efficient in how you select top talent

For many organisations and particularly those that are fast growing, recruitment places a huge strain on resources. Identifying the best talent requires a lot of time and effort. However, most recruitment processes are inefficient at quickly and accurately identifying the best talent.

While there are various technologies gaining popularity, improving a recruitment process can actually be quite simple. Several years ago, my innovation consultancy, Inventium, made a small tweak to our recruitment process for hiring trainers and facilitators that made a huge difference to the speed and effectiveness of the process.

After conducting an initial resumé screen, we introduced a video challenge into the process, whereby applicants would have to create a two-minute video explaining why the advertised role was perfect for them. For Inventium, this video acted as a shortcut to quickly see how engaging this person was at presenting. After all, if they couldn’t engage us for two minutes, then they probably wouldn’t be effective at engaging a group of workshop participants for a whole day. This small tweak made a huge difference to the speed and effectiveness of the entire process.

Fast-track getting the right fit 

An organisation’s induction process needs to create a strong first impression and get new recruits up to speed as quickly as possible. It’s also an initial test for both the organisation and the new employee as to whether a good fit exists.

Several years ago, online retailer Zappos innovated its induction process by deciding to pay people to leave. Zappos wanted quickly to identify who really wanted to work at Zappos and felt the cultural fit was there – and who did not. After going through some initial Zappos induction training, new recruits were offered $1,000 to resign. While few people took Zappos up on this offer, it helped to quickly sort those who were committed and fit the culture, and those who did not.

Get creative about employee benefits 

One of the areas where companies based in the US technology hub known as Silicon Valley lead the way in innovating the workplace experience is in the area of employee benefits. An example of a valuable employee benefit that the majority of technology companies, such as Netflix and LinkedIn, have adopted is offering all employees unlimited paid annual leave – provided they liaise with management and make sure their work is covered. Benefits such as free meals cooked by an in-house chef and onsite massage have also become stock standard. But, as with unlimited annual leave, many organisations outside of Silicon Valley have not put the same amount of focus on innovating the employee experience.

A huge opportunity exists for Australian organisations to reflect on their internal innovation efforts and look to innovate every stage of their employees’ experience, and by doing so, put themselves ahead of the pack in the war for talent.

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium (www.inventium.com.au) which claims to be Australia’s leading innovation consultancy. Her latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives.
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