Is engagement the sine qua non of innovation?

The Idea: if you work actively on the engagement of employees, the creative potential of your people will be unleashed, leading to increased ability in change and innovation.


Continue reading

Is engagement the sine qua non of innovation?

The Idea: if you work actively on the engagement of employees, the creative potential of your people will be unleashed, leading to increased ability in change and innovation.



The 3 organizational gaps, or is it only one?

1. The Change Gap

Did you know that only 54% of all change initiatives are successful? (source: Booz & Company).

That’s a low number. Some studies even say 60-70% of all change efforts fail. The top reasons for failed change are:

  • Change fatigue due to lack of priorities
  • CEO & directors dictating what the change is about
  • Seeing communication as engagement, which it’s not. Both are equally important.
  • People not feeling involved in the change process.


Most change programs deal well with the formal aspects of an organization: the processes, tools, decision making, training and performance management. But one critical thing is often forgotten: how people think, believe, act and feel. Culture is the combination of formal and informal aspects and those informal aspects are often overlooked or taken for granted.

And that’s a mistake. Don’t take culture for granted. Culture is critical.

87% of people involved in a PWC-survey in 2013 said that culture is critical for business success. Only 35% thinks culture is effectively managed. Let’s call it ‘The Change Gap’.

So, what kind of culture do we need for innovation and continuous change?

2. The Creativity Gap

Innovation needs a creative climate. Moreover, the future of every organization needs a creative climate.

A climate in which ideas and change can thrive, in which entrepreneurs and change agents can do their work. A climate in which you’re allowed to experiment and make mistakes, in which it’s not strange to take time to reflect, in which people and teams truly learn.

Creativity moves to skill number 3 in the study of World Economic Forum on top professional skills needed by 2020. At the same time, in a study done by Adobe in 2012, 6 out of 10 people worldwide felt that being creative is valuable to their country’s economy, but only 25% thinks they live up to their creative potential. Adobe calls this ‘The Creativity Gap’.

Creative development is important to employees and leaders. Unfortunately 80% reports focus in their organization is on productivity/efficiency rather than creativity (Adobe 2012). In an era where we need more creativity of more people, how can we build a climate in which ideas and people can thrive?

There are of course big differences between efficiency and creativity and we need them both. Take “time” for example. From an efficiency point of view, staring outside the window and tinkering is seen as a waste. From a creativity point of view, it’s seen as added value …

This is a big dilemma organizations are facing… how do you balance both efficiency and creativity?

I think the first step is understanding creativity. We all know a great deal about efficiency, since it was the driving force of the industrial revolution. But what about creativity, the driving force of this century?

A creative mindset, beliefs, actions, behaviors….the informal side of the innovation culture. It’s all fuzzy and invisible, isn’ it?

First make the invisible visible.

You cannot see a culture or a climate, it’s just like the weather, you can feel it and see the results of it (the rain, the snow, the sunshine). You can’t see a company culture, you can only feel it and see it if people are happy, sad, agile, entrepreneurial, etc. So you need to dig and find which key elements will drive your creative culture. You have to define what you want to see. You need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of your current culture.

Ask yourself some challenging questions:

  • Why is it you don’t get your ideas through?
  • Why are ideas killed in an early stage?
  • Why do people feel scared to share (weird) ideas?
  • Why do people come up with problems, not with solutions?
  • Why do your employees expect  you to come up with all the answers?
  • Why are your people disengaged?

These are all questions that uncover the fuzzy obstacles to creative change.

At Bedenk, we tried to find answers to these questions. Together with Michaël Van Damme, researcher from the University of Ghent, we asked ourselves: ‘How can we bring more structure and understanding in the fuzzy part of innovation and change? Which are the tangible elements that we can work on to create an environment in which ideas can thrive, in which your chances to get your idea through are higher, in which you can make your ideas stronger before they get killed, and in which you feel safe and comfortable to experiment?

It lead us to our 9-box model for the creative organization, based on dozens of studies and hundreds of research results. It contains in total 68 specific parameters, that we use to scan teams and organizations and get a clear overview of their core strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a creative culture.

An example of an important element in a creative climate is ‘giving feedback that advances innovation’. You don’t want people to stop after one idea or concept. You want them to continue, make it better, or stop working on it, but using the insights to move on and focus on another idea…. You want a continuous flow of ideas, but you can’t say yes to all of them. So you have to say no, without stopping the process.

The solution is setting clear change or innovation criteria upfront and applying the great rules of giving constructive feedback and coaching people towards continuous improvement.

Probably the most important aspect of all is ‘engaging people in your vision’. That counts for the CEO, but also for every leader in the organization. Please stop just communicating your ideas and vision, start co-creating the vision with your teams and facilitate the creative change needed to get there. Not only will this bring you better ideas and change acceptance, it will also impact your overall engagement level.

3. The Engagement Gap

Did you know that only 14% of employees in Europe are highly engaged in their job? (source Gallup)

That’s dramatically low! 60% of those engaged employees say their job sparks creative ideas on a daily basis, compared to only 3% of the disengaged.

That’s a huge gap!

And a huge potential for innovation!

On top of that: companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202% (source: Dale Carnegie study).

So it’s easy to wonder if employee engagement is the sine qua non of innovation? Or the sine qua non of change and innovation readiness? 

We don’t want to say that all innovation comes from internal employees, it’s one possible innovation strategy to follow, which is best combined with external innovation power. But if you want to change from within, you probably won’t get any success unless your engagement rate is high or unless you’ll work on increasing the engagement of your employees.

We need less change management and more change facilitation.

The thing is, we don’t know if you need engagement to innovate and change, or if you get engagement because you invite employees to participate in your change efforts? What is clear, is that we need another approach to change. We need less change management, we need more change facilitation, involving employees as soon as possible in the change efforts, thus addressing their creative potential, increasing their engagement level and positively impacting the success rate of change in organizations. So one might say there are not 3 gaps, but one huge gap we need to fill: the employee engagement gap.