· Features

Why you should be encouraging innovation

We must consider innovation, in the context of people, to be more than tangible things

The day-to-day challenges of an HR department can sometimes get in the way of what really matters to both staff and the business. We’re always looking at the ‘headline’ objectives, which typically include recruitment, pay, discipline, evaluation, training and compliance.

So where does innovation fit in, and does it have a place in our toolbox?

What most business leaders know is that innovation will help to drive their future growth. But we must consider innovation, in the context of a staff member, to be more than tangible products or service developments. Those transformational processes that staff contribute to can aid productivity, reduce costs, or improve customer interaction and retention. They will positively affect any size business. Therefore innovation must be a key part of an HR manager’s toolbox. The fact that encouraging innovation will contribute to motivation, performance and loyalty among staff puts a big tick in many of our HR boxes by default.

We focus on nurturing an environment that gives staff the freedom to be creative with their ideas and to bring those ideas to fruition. Is it effective? This year we won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation – a massive achievement by any company’s standards. Getting the award is as much about the contribution of our 300-plus employees as it is the innovative products and services we have developed. We’re coaching people to be innovative, and giving them the tools and support to be creative, and that generates brilliant results.

This can be challenging. More than 160 of our staff are claims handlers and therefore share similar roles and job titles. We need to create new opportunities and develop their skills if we’re to keep these people engaged, which is why we launched our progressive development model: Evolve. The programme helps to align workers with our customer-oriented goals and removes perceived career ceilings. It enables staff to follow career paths that embrace their strengths rather than being promoted to roles they may neither enjoy nor be the best at.

Our claims handlers are our frontline. They deal with our customers 24/7. Therefore their performance is crucial in our ability to meet challenging business goals. Each claims handler is using software we’ve developed, called Synergy, which has won awards as an industry-leading innovation in itself. We created it to help make the levels of customer service we provide outstanding. But the technology is not enough. The people who use it must embrace the same customer focus for it to be truly effective.

You’ll hear many experts say that failure is part of the innovation process. It’s important that our employees are not afraid of failure. They need to feel confident to take risks, and we have to embrace and support those leaps of faith – so long as we provide a safety net. For us that's by building a well-structured, sound business.

Developing this type of workplace ambiance where trust and respect rule, creates a knock-on effect. You see greater productivity and engagement, and when employees feel inspired by a leader they are more inclined to go that extra mile. Innovation triumphs, which means the business benefits.

Debbie Mawer is director of people and culture at Claims Consortium Group