The secret to innovation? Your workplace culture

Eimear Meredith-Jones, Managing Director, Accenture Talent & Organisation, on how an empowering environment can be developed by companies

Innovation is the key to business competitiveness and growth. Yet, according to new research from Accenture, only a third of UK employees feel empowered to act accordingly.

In this year’s Getting to Equal 2019 report, we found that the vast majority of UK executives see continuous innovation as essential – with 95% agreeing that innovation is vital to their business, and 91% of employees wanting to be innovative. The desire to cultivate an innovative workplace is clearly there, with 76% of leaders saying they regularly encourage employees to be innovative at work. Yet only 42% of employees actually agree. In that case, how are business leaders getting it so wrong?

According to the research, when it comes to an innovation mindset among UK employees – one’s willingness and ability to innovate – it appears to be six times higher in companies with a robust culture of equality, than in less-equal companies. These are the cultures in which everyone can advance and thrive, feeling empowered while doing so. If business leaders can foster a workplace environment where people feel included and empowered, while understanding what motivates their employees, they will unleash the innovation required to remain competitive during this era of disruption. 

When considering the broader picture, many business leaders believe some circumstances boost innovation more than they actually do. For instance, they often overestimate factors such as financial reward, while overlooking true drivers of innovation such as purpose. When it comes to being innovative, factors such as flexible working arrangements, relevant skills training and a genuine respect for work-life balance are what truly motivates employees. Given the research has found this to be the case across many different industries, countries and demographics, there’s no denying the tangible benefits of adjusting a workplace culture. 

The report also revealed that 81% of UK employees, who are working within a more equal workplace culture, are not worried about failing in their pursuit of innovation. Think of the endless possibilities and opportunities that could stem from such a bold and fearless mindset. The willingness and ability to innovate is stronger in fast-growing economies and countries with high labour-productivity growth. Picture this: if the innovation mindset in all countries grew by 10%, we calculate that global gross domestic product would grow by up to £6 trillion over ten years. 

But, how can you increase the innovation mindset? Our research was based on a survey of more than 18,000 professionals in 27 countries (including 700 in the UK), a survey of more than 150 C-suite executives in eight countries and a model that combines employee survey results with published labour force data. It all boils down to three actionable categories: bold leadership; comprehensive action and, most importantly, an empowering environment. Our research found that the latter is the most essential factor in fostering a culture of equality and increasing an innovation mindset. It consists of six elements: purpose, autonomy, resources, inspiration, collaboration and experimentation. 

Innovation isn’t purely driven by paying your employees well – it’s about empowering them to be bold and collaborative, working towards a common purpose, while being supported with the right resources and leadership. If business leaders can foster a true culture of equality in this era of disruption, the competitive and growth opportunities for those organisations are limitless. 

Accenture has been working closely with Business in the Community to develop a culture change framework to help companies transform their culture.