Investing in employee development – How to use social innovation

The maritime and logistics industries are constantly changing. To keep up with these developments, investing in innovation is becoming increasingly important for businesses. Almost every organisation acknowledges the importance of technological innovation, but did you know social innovation can be utilised to increase the effectiveness of new technologies and processes?

The war for talent
Human capital is becoming increasingly valuable for companies. Your organisation could possess the newest materials and state-of-the-art technology, but as long as employees are unable to use these resources to their full potential, you won’t make the most out of your investment. This is why it’s becoming more and more important to have the right people with the right knowledge and skills in the right positions. At the same time, attracting top talent is a challenge for many organisations. Competition on the labour market is stiff—over half of employers indicated they’ve had problems filling vacancies in the past year (source: UWV). This “war for talent” can be felt in the world of maritime and logistics as well. Social innovation is a powerful tool to strengthen your position on the labour market. By strategically investing in the personal and professional development of your employees, you don’t only increase employee retention, but present yourself as an attractive employer to new talent. In addition, you improve performance of the organisation as a whole.

What is social innovation?
But what does social innovation even mean? What characteristics make an organisation frontrunner in this field? We have listed four core elements of social innovation for you below.

  1. Entrepreneurial DNA

Looking at the organisation as a whole, it is important to stimulate an entrepreneurial culture in all layers of the company. In such a culture, customer orientation is key and taking risks is part of the job. Additionally, there should be enough development opportunities for staff. Lastly, there is a need to establish co-creation, not only between different departments within the organisation, but with external parties as well. Entrepreneurial DNA is expressed in new, creative business models with progression as the core mentality.

  1. Decentralised structure

Next to company culture, company structure is a point of attention for organisations that would like to be more socially innovative. The objective here is to keep hierarchy to a minimum and facilitate collaboration between different departments as much as possible. By keeping decision-making authority as low in the organisation as possible, you allow for changes and improvements to emerge bottom-up.

  1. Self-managing teams

Besides culture and structure, it’s necessary to zoom in further on the different types of teams that exist within an organisation. Of course autonomy is an important factor: micromanagement should be kept to a minimum to give employees the freedom to complete their tasks. With such freedom comes responsibility: proactively tackling issues and having the willingness to bear responsibility are important characteristics for team members. To realise all of this, effective team management is necessary, with a leader that is able to identify what different members of the team need to perform optimally.

  1. Widely employable workforce

The last thing social innovation addresses is the individual. Technological developments and globalisation have led to an increasing complexity of our work. To handle this complexity, education and certification are becoming more and more valuable. This doesn’t only apply to young professionals entering the workforce: employees that have been with a company for a longer time and even managers or executives can benefit greatly from training or learning-on-the-job opportunities. It’s all about empowering employees and allowing them to perform tasks that aren’t in the direct scope of their job description—and thus allowing them to apply their knowledge and expertise in new areas. To successfully realise a widely employable workforce, agility and a flexible work attitude is a prerequisite.

Social innovation: how?

Terms like “the new way of working”, self-management and agility are hot in managerial jargon—they’ve become so widely used that they can lose their meaning and be set aside as nothing more than buzzwords. But don’t be fooled: addressing the issues presented in this article can help your company move forward, so long as it’s done strategically and mindfully.
Start with yourself. In any situation, ask yourself: why? When a staff member comes up to you to ask for permission, why isn’t he/she able to make the decision independently? If you have to delegate a task or perform it yourself, why hasn’t this been proactively picked up on by the team? Why are you running into certain problems when working on a project—could these problems have been prevented by a better exchange of information, a different way of collaboration, or a new form of management? Of course not every question will lead to the conclusion that change is necessary or desirable—but in some cases, you will notice that certain processes could be more efficient and effective. This will give you a clear point of departure to get started with social innovation!                       Once you’ve decided to get to work on social innovation, it is important to engage in dialogue with your employees and to keep the conversation going. What is their perspective from the work floor? What do they think they need themselves? On which aspects of social innovation do they believe the organisation scores great, and which areas can be improved on? Only by engaging the entire organisation and creating bottom-up support for transitions can you transform social innovation into more than just another buzzword. In addition to talking to your own employees and colleagues, it can be beneficial to speak to partners that have experience in tackling such organisational challenges. They can give an outsider’s perspective on your processes and identify problems—and solutions—that you might not have thought of yourself.

Interested in learning more? You can find Venturn’s Social Innovation Assessment here to get a first indication of how well your company is performing when it comes to social innovation. Want to get started on supporting the development of your employees? Read our article on how to effectively design development trajectories that work here.

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