Ping pong tables are not the future of work. Nor are breakout conversation spaces. Nor are walls covered in flat screen monitors. In the latest installment of our #MercerChats series, participants from around the world joined Mercer experts and future of work thought leaders to discuss what it means to be an innovation-driven tech workplace, and the consensus was clear: innovation is built - not bought.
This perspective mirrors our own findings. In our recent research, Building an Innovation-Driven Tech Workplace, Mercer found that the building blocks for a future-ready workforce are not the shiny baubles that bring in talent, but rather the meaningful benefits and employment-experience programs that keep them.
Though this data is backed by science, it’s clear that it’s also supported by the wisdom of the crowd. Over the course of our #MercerChats discussion, the following themes emerged again and again.
1. An inclusive culture breeds an innovative organization
There is no chicken vs. egg debate when it comes to building an innovative workforce versus an inclusive workforce. If you want the former, begin with the latter. Our research found that ITWs were 48% more likely to offer inclusive benefits that address individuals’ needs workforce segments such as tech and engineering employees, and they’re more than two times more likely to provide psychological safety to employees than their peers. As Wilko S. Wolters articulated so well during our #MercerChats, to become digital you must first become human.
Building an innovative workplace is about building an innovative workforce, then giving those individuals the license and space to pursue new ideas. Though leadership may be inclined to think about this in an operational and product-development perspective (and they do; ITWs are 65% more likely to encourage and embrace a fail-fast culture, it’s impossible to engender this perspective when individuals don’t feel free to express their own selves. Simply put, people won’t bring their best ideas to work if they’re not comfortable speaking honestly about who they are.
2. Innovation is born of people, not tech
Even in an era of AI and machine learning, the best ideas still come from people. After all, who do you think came up with AI and machine learning?
This isn’t lost on ITWs, which are 2.5x more likely to invest in training in order to adopt new technologies than other companies. This recognition of the primacy of people is fundamental, and it runs deeper than town halls and employee appreciation programs. It means building an organization of people, not a building an organization with people. Based on our chat, it’s clear that Stela Lupushor and Tamara McCleary share this sentiment.
3. Word travels
What does the people-centric theory of ITWs mean for business leaders? That HR is a key stakeholder in the pursuit of innovation. Whether it’s a formal employee benefit program or industry perception of a firm’s corporate culture, all paths to an innovation-driven organization lead through HR.
But this still leaves the open question of how HR and business leaders can engineer an environment that appeals to engineers. The answer is deceptively simple: think like an engineer. ITWs are 22% more likely to make basic HR/employment data easily available to employees than other firms, and 17% more likely to do the same with business data. This solution of giving tech and data-minded employees access to tech and data may seem simple, but it must be undergirded with layers of HR systems and programs to ensure your employee-facing tech works as well as your employee-created tech.
Ultimately, the battle for tech-minded employees and an innovation-driven workplace comes down to reputation. Word travels fast, especially among highly-talented, highly sought-after employees, and your employment brand likely precedes you. Like Antonia Vieira Santos and Sheela Sukumaran shared during our #MercerChats, the key is to make sure they like what they hear and experience.