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Innovation in business is meeting an unsatisfied need


When did you last experience a flash of innovation at work? Have a quick think…

Now read the following story.

A utilities company employs mainly blue collar workers. These are people that do the heavy lifting, digging holes etc. – all the manual work that is necessary to provide the infrastructure we expect in today’s society. This work can be dangerous. Cutting through a high voltage electrical cable can be fatal. A worker identified and suggested that by adding a rubber strip at the end of his spade could potentially save lives – including his own.

The idea was acknowledged by his manager and was quickly adopted. The worker received company-wide recognition. More innovative suggestions from others have followed.

A great story demonstrating that innovation does not have to be about inventing the next space rocket, the next tablet device or medical breakthrough. But with my HR background and expertise in employee engagement, I am interested in asking the following questions:

  • How many times did the worker think about suggesting the idea?
  • How many times did the worker suggest the idea but his manager or previous managers did not listen?
  • What processes were in place to make the adoption of the idea happen?

I believe that providing people an opportunity to voice their ideas, concerns and apprehensions leads to much greater employee participation. After all, everyone ought to be pulling in the same direction – otherwise why have you employed them? The ideas and views offered don’t just have to be about health and safety or employee-care either. Very often employees will have ideas on how they can meet customer needs with either new products or improved processes – ultimately they are the ones dealing with them each and every day.

Here are two more short stories that make the point.

  • A worker on a car production line suggested that the company stopped painting the inside of the car’s ashtrays. The idea was adopted and although the unit cost was small the overall savings ran into thousands over the years.
  • A check-out cashier created good-will messages for customers and secretly put them in their shopping bags. This idea became so popular customers would prefer to queue at this cashiers till just to receive a message. And the stores profits soared.

My challenge to you this month is to ask yourself how well do you engage with your employees to encourage ideas and innovation. Here are some specifics:

  • How often do you sweat the small stuff? –  What might seem trivial to you may well be a massive issue for your employee.
  • How well do you listen and then adopt ideas?
  • How well do you recognise and reward new ideas?  
  • How well does your company culture encourage, welcome, embrace and reward innovation?

These are the types of questions that we address and debate on our successful Engaging Leaders Forums (which we run jointly with The Mallows Company). At Beyond Theory we help companies put their employee engagement strategies in place and then provide training support necessary to lift productivity and profitability. To find out more simply call  01604.212505 or email me at paul@betondtheory.co.,uk




  1. Paul Green on October 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    Nice post Paul – if you are not innovating in your business to stay ahead of the competition, then you may well be left behind, as your rivals get the edge on what you do. Today’s market place is becoming more and more competitive and each business needs to distinguish themselves to their prospects – quality and service is a given, so what else do you offer as a business that would compel a customer to buy from you rather than a.n.other?

  2. Jacky Sherman on November 1, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Love the Cashier story. Have you read Fish? How to love the job you do.

    • Paul on November 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Yes, I am very familiar with the FISH! story – those guys in the Seattle Fish Market sure know how to enjoy their work and their infectious enthusiasm creates customer enthusiasm. The cashier story originates from Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles which is an excellent read. My particular favourite Blanchard book is Gung Ho! Again co-written with Sheldon Bowles, almost 20 years on it still spells out a very simple message how to engage employees in their work. And I am lucky enough to have a signed copy too.

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