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Innovation the target of a joint staff project at FNZ, says its HR director

Collaborative working is at the heart of an initiative at FNZ that promises to put employees’ best ideas into practice.

Financial platform provider FNZ is rolling out an employee-led scheme to drive innovation, HR director Daniel Kasmir (pictured) has revealed exclusively to HR magazine.

FNZ's Lab events being launched this month are designed to help employees overcome challenges and to create and fast-track solutions. The company says it will put the best and most original ideas into practice.

The events will bring teams of employees from different locations together for two days to work through a series of ideas and challenges identified by the staff.

Kasmir, who is at number 27 on this year's HR Most Influential list, told HR magazine: "You can't underestimate the amount of emotional and positive energy that initiatives like this can drive.

"One thing Labs does is say to our employees: 'collaboration is fine; we want you to innovate because that will enhance the experience of our customers'."

Although many organisations talk about innovation, he said, they don't quite manage to put it into practice. "A lot of businesses use the buzzword 'being innovative', because they believe it sounds good, but they don't actually give their people the space to do it," he said.

"What this initiative does is give our workers the platform to have an independent voice, which is what fundamentally drives innovation."

FNZ was founded less than 10 years ago, and has offices in the UK, Czech Republic, Australia and New Zealand. The average age of its 721 employees is only 26. Kasmir said such a young workforce requires an innovative business strategy.

Kasmir, who moved to FNZ as chief human resources officer from technology services provider Xchanging eight months ago, said that considering the pace of technology today, companies cannot afford to stand still when it comes to innovation.

"Some employers talk about innovation in the respect of, 'I had a dream last night and discovered the lightbulb'. It doesn't work like that. It's a culmination of a group of people coming together on specific issues and finding innovative solutions."

The initial Labs event will be repeated in a few months, when every available employee from each of the company's locations will work on different ideas and projects over the same two days.

Kasmir said he thinks the "energy and camaraderie" created is what makes such a scheme "special" for employees.

Crowdsourcing initiatives, where organisations gather ideas from their employees, and schemes giving employees time to work on their own projects, originated in technology-based companies.

In November last year, Apple introduced its Blue Sky initiative, allowing employees to take two weeks out of their normal work schedule to devote to special projects.

Another example is business social networking site LinkedIn, which last month launched an initiative called InCubator, aimed at turning "employees into entrepreneurs". The scheme is an evolved version of the company's earlier Hackdays initiative.

Once a quarter, any LinkedIn employee can come up with an idea, put together a team and pitch their project to the executive staff, with LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and CEO Jeff Weiner involved in the final round.

If the idea is approved, the team gets to spend up to three months of dedicated time on their project.

"It's a little bit like a venture capital thing," said Kevin Scott, LinkedIn's senior vice president for engineering. "When we find something we really like, we want to make it successful."

So far, LinkedIn has approved five InCubator projects.