Want a fresh perspective? Ask the cleaner

British bosses seeking innovative ideas have apparently started asking their cleaners and security guards. Who said UK plc was struggling?

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
According to research by Orange, 60% of companies felt they were innovating more than ever before, and 25% were even going to their support staff for ideas. (Note that Orange merged with T-Mobile to form Everything Everywhere, a company which sounds like it could've easily been named by someone with a cleaner's take on branding). This unusual course was ascribed to the demands of a tougher working environment, which have creating a drive to stay ahead of the competition with new products and services and desire to cut costs. Of course it could just be that cleaning jobs are the only use for an engineering degree these days.

Yet while Orange is using the figures as an example of the levels of innovation in the nation right now, such habits are very much driven by necessity. 39% of employees believe that their firm asks more staff for their ideas now compared to the boom times of 2002 to 2007. And the practice still has a long way to go: only 47% of companies actually ask staff for their ideas on new products and services. That leaves a lot of outfits that aren’t looking to their team at all.  
Which is a shame, as the move towards asking your people for their brain dumps is having a positive effect on firms’ bottom lines, as you may expect. According to the research, the average businesses turned four staff suggestions into new offerings over the last 12 months. And a third of the businesses surveyed saw an extra £250k in profit over the same period as a result.

‘There is a new connected culture of bosses asking their whole organisation for ideas,’ said Martin Stiven, Vice President of Business, Orange. ‘It is sweeping through British business and with fears of a double dip recession growing, new ideas are exactly what is needed to kick start the economy.’ It’s hard to argue with the benefits, even if it’s worth asking what happened to the people who are paid to come up with ideas. Not to mention the image it conjures of the modern British board table, ruled over by a distraught chief exec gesticulating at an empty flip chart to a team comprising a cleaner, the security guard, the car park guy, a red Indian, a maintenance man and a traffic cop.
Even though more businesses are turning to their staff to innovate, the research found that bosses need to do more to facilitate this internally. 29% of respondents revealed the biggest barrier to employee innovation is not having the systems in place to submit ideas. That said, 78% identified the use of social media networks as a cost effective way to quickly generate as many ideas as possible and boost innovation. Just expect all the ideas to be about extra-comfortable security chairs and super-powered vacuum cleaners…

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