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How do you foster a culture of innovation?

Earlier this year on the HR on the Offensive podcast we spoke to Wendy Muirhead, VP of Ceridian Europe, about what It means to drive innovation through company culture. As a fast-moving technology business there is an expectation for Ceridian to keep innovation at the core of what it does – but how exactly does it achieve this and what tips can Wendy give other businesses?

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What exactly is a culture of innovation, and what does that mean for your team at Ceridian?

For me there are two parts to answering this question. The first part is about showing that you have belief in the abilities of your people and championing them. You need to create a safe environment where people can bring their whole self to work, which helps to develop a team like the team I have, who I playfully call ‘Team Awesome’.  I champion them every single minute of every single day to help them to achieve their personal goals, their customers goals and anything else they want to achieve to be better in this industry. If you create an environment which allows people to be completely safe, it’s amazing what opportunity comes from that. Innovation is ideas. It’s creativity, it’s listening to people and it’s being a voice for those ideas.

I often think it’s not just one person that has a great idea; someone says something amazing and then someone else adds to it. The collaboration of idea generation causes the genius to happen and you have to lean into that.

The second part is how you execute that innovation. If you have this safe, ‘bring-your-entire-self-to-work’ culture you can really focus on the positive impacts you can achieve on a daily basis. It’s infectious. People automatically bring that creativity and innovation. If you can try to create that environment where people have that opportunity not to be the voice for them, but to channel the opportunity, they will share their own ideas more freely. I’ve seen good line management versus bad line management; we’ve all been there when a line manager takes all the credit for something that’s happened, but then can’t actually articulate the detail because it wasn’t that person’s idea, which then just leads to demotivation of the employee.

If you can be a champion of great talent, it’s a good starting point for an innovative culture.

How important do you think it is that the culture of innovation starts at the top?

I think it’s important to start at the top but I think it’s also important to give everyone the opportunity to have access to people from all levels of the organisation. If it’s encouraged from the top down it gives everyone the freedom to be empowered to do it. If someone wants to reach out and look for mentorship and make a connection, at Ceridian we have full free access to talent across the organisation and I personally within my team really encourage virtual coffees, so that people can gain inspiration not from individuals more senior to them, but also from other parts of the business. Especially if you are new to an organisation, taking the time to make a cup of tea and have a chat with someone and making that reality yours -virtually- is a great thing.

We have an ‘Aha’ portal which is an area to put ideas. If it’s a customer idea and everyone votes on it, it’s great because it becomes part of what we want to do to drive forward new enhancements to our services, but what giving this access to the whole business does is that it ensures that innovation and creativity comes from everywhere. It isn’t just an R&D team charged with coming up with ideas. If you have a business who embraces ideas and innovation from every corner, you have more opportunity to be more innovative.

Does your belief in your workforce’s and customer’s ideas steer you in terms of product roadmap?

100%. Great ideas can come from any source and our CEO really encourages that. Coming from a technical background, innovation is something he is really passionate about, so we invest heavily in our R&D team. But as I mention before it is not just one team that is charged with innovation. It comes from the whole business and if an idea works, is voted on by the business and is seen as valuable, it will definitely make our product roadmap.

Wendy, you worked for Ceridian several years ago, and now you are back again so you have seen how much it has grown. How difficult is it to maintain a culture of innovation in a larger business rather than when you were first at the company? Is it easier now?

I think it’s so much easier and technology has played an important part in that change. Technology is an enabler and whether we are using our Dayforce product or communicating via email there are so many forms of interaction now. There are so many different ways in which people can be contacted and whilst some may feel that could cause a challenge of there being ‘too much noise’, for others it has eased the process and sped up their ability to respond. It also means that people can communicate in ways that suit them. For example, if you are somebody who is quicker to respond via WhatsApp, or via Microsoft Teams/Workplace by Facebook, or you just prefer to jump on a Zoom call, the options are there. If you are clear in communicating with your peers and colleagues how you best respond then you can be more rapid in your collaboration. That too also encourages innovation because people feel like they’re being listened to.

Technology advancement has made everyone so accessible – which is also vital in being able to ensure everyone in the organisation has access to different parts of our business so as I mentioned in the previous question, getting input at all levels is one of the key elements of having a business that can adapt quickly and innovate.

Do you think that you as a business embrace those channels more than most organisations or do you think that technology and the access to it for all companies is more of a ‘rising tide for all boats’?

Technology is definitely leading the way in terms of helping people to be different in their marketplace, which is across the board. As a tech player, we have greater access, or more ability to adopt new tech and ways of working as we live and breathe evolution. I maybe have more channels than some of the client’s I’ve visited today, but that doesn’t mean they don’t embrace technology, because for me it’s not only about what the best way to engage someone is. If you want to foster a culture of innovation it’s about making yourself accessible and when you know how to engage others, just do it.

If you would like to talk to LACE Partners about your people strategy, how you can engage your workforce better to drive innovation, then get in touch with us at info@lacepartners.co.uk