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Exclusive: UK lags behind in global innovation race

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Innovation levels in the UK are behind many of its key competitors including India, China and the Middle East, according to research published today from Kenexa.

The Kenexa WorkTrends survey, seen exclusively by HR magazine, revealed the UK is distinctly average at innovating: with less than half (48%) of UK employees reporting positive innovation within their organisations. This compares unfavourably with countries who scored much higher levels of innovation, such as India (79%), China (64%) and UAE (55%).

The lowest innovation scores globally were Japan (27%), France (38%) and Russia (40%).

The survey states innovation is key in order for organisational success. It adds creativity is born out of employees having the right skills, being in the right environment and supported by leadership that not only cultivates their ideas, but drive innovation and action.

Employees were asked for their opinions on the key elements of organisational innovation:

  • Freedom to try new things, even if they might not succeed
  • Actual action on trying new innovations
  • Support to implement new ideas
  • Encouragement to innovate and try new things

The UK is performing a little better than the global average when it comes to encouraging the trial of new things. However, when it comes to actually taking action to try out new ideas, the UK is slightly behind the global trend.

The survey states while an average result is not bad news, UK employees clearly believe there is some way to go before the country achieves the Government's ambition to "be the best place in the world to run an innovative business". It claims, in particular, the local UK innovation environment seems to fall short when it comes to taking the plunge and actively implementing new ideas.

On a global level, the survey measured innovation by gender and found women outscored men on nearly every element of innovation.

The survey looked at innovation by generation and there was a clear distinction in the four elements between younger and older workers. On the element of 'encouraged to be innovative', generation 'millennials' scored 59%, compared to 52% for generation 'boomers'. When these two were compared on 'support for implementing new ideas', the scores were 47% to 38% in favour of millennials. The overall innovation score was 53% to 45%, again in favour of millennials.

To encourage innovation, the survey advises employers welcome and reward new ideas, reduce red tape and make it easy, make it safe to fail and develop flexible thinking.

Matthew Nowell, senior business development partner at Kenexa, told HR magazine the UK is still relying on "very traditional" methods of business, which could be holding us back in terms of innovation. "The economy in the UK is changing so the way we market ourselves has to be innovative," he said.

"In terms of driving innovation we are seen as innovative and in certain areas of what we do, we probably are. But more broadly if you're any business it's about the environment you create to allow your employees to grow and explore and that is what we could be lacking."

Nowell added: "Innovators such as Steve Jobs at Apple had a clear vision of what he wanted and had a freedom to be innovative. Jobs was then able to dictate the market and tell it where it was going."

Low scores seen in countries like Japan could be put down to cultural issues and the tradition of "not being able to tell your leader they're wrong," said Nowell.

He added: "When you look at countries which have high scores, they usually operate in emerging markets and these are very entrepreneurial, so businesses that are establishing themselves have more freedom and less red tape. They're looking to their leaders to think creatively on how they can target that market."

Kenexa's WorkTrends survey 2012 was taken by approximately 33,000 employees in 28 countries who work full-time for an organisation of 100 staff members or more.