No (Good) Idea Left Behind: Everyone In An Organization Has The Potential To Innovate
A nationwide focus on innovation has changed how we live and work. Since the National Innovation Strategy was launched in 2014, innovation in the UAE has facilitated everything from cleaner energy to better data management and easier, more convenient services. The results are palpable to everybody who lives in the UAE, and they earned the country a six-point jump on the Global Innovation Index from 2016 to 2017. But has this innovation culture filtered into every part of the workplace?
In a survey of the national workforce, commissioned by Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) last year, almost everybody recognizes that the UAE is making progress. Some 94% of respondents said that the UAE is more innovative than it was five years ago. This included 73% of senior management and 65% of junior staff who said that the UAE was “a lot more innovative” than it was in 2012. This should come as no surprise. Since 2014 the government has unveiled a host of initiatives in line with UAE Vision 2021, many of them focused on transforming the way government departments and agencies serve the public. At the same time, encouraged by the government, the private sector made its own investments, doubling down on everything from new technologies to fresh techniques in corporate governance.
Collectively these efforts have catapulted the volume of research and and development financed by businesses in the UAE to the fourth highest in the world according to the World Trade Organization. Additionally, they have raised the contributions of knowledge and innovation to the UAE’s GDP to 3% in 2016, one one of the highest global rates, the UAE Minister of Economy H.E. Sultan Al Mansoori said at the launch of the 2016 Global Innovation Index.
The survey results bear out this private sector commitment. 67% of respondents describe their companies as “innovative,” which indicates that they believe their companies do not just deliver the rhetoric of innovation; they actually make investments in it. Some 71% of all respondents believe that their companies spend adequately on innovation and are making good on their promises to advance toward a knowledge-based economy.
But there is a wrinkle in this fantastic story for the UAE, and here it is: even quicker innovative progress would be possible if everyone in the workforce is involved, but in too many organizations that does not seem to be happening.
Our survey revealed that more than half of respondents believe that senior staff and CEOs are more likely to produce innovative outcomes than junior staff. Only 30% of senior management and 39% of junior staff believe that all employees are able to design and implement innovative ideas.
At EGA, we strongly believe that everyone in an organization has the potential to innovate. In fact, we think that the people nearest a work process are best placed to identify an improvement, and have the ability to devise the simplest solution required.
For us, the leadership of an organization has a critical role to play, but they are not the only innovators. Innovation is not just great leaps in technology; it is finding better ways to do anything, anywhere, any day. Unfortunately, too many people in the UAE workforce do not agree, and that means the innovation potential of millions of people is left untapped.
We believe that all of the UAE’s workforce should be given the confidence and support they need to drive the country forward. And we think it is right to expect that employees should step up to this challenge.
Like many other leading companies in the UAE, EGA embraces the concept of continuous improvement, and we don’t just limit it to a handful of those at the top. It is the job of every one of our 7,000 UAE-based employees to consider how we can do things better, and it is up to our most senior employees to ensure that every voice is heard.
In 2017, individual EGA employees submitted over 34,400 ideas through our suggestion scheme, generating some AED36 million in savings. Our staff share in the financial benefits of their ideas.
We also run a program for teams called Tamayaz, focused on achieving business results by providing a platform for rewarding and recognizing supervisory and non-supervisory employees after successful completion of value-adding projects.
We are very proud of our continuous improvement program, but it is not revolutionary thinking in global terms. A report by Strategy& and PwC in 2011 said in no uncertain terms that a culture that supports innovation is more important than how much the company spends on R&D. In their Global Innovation 1000 study, they found that organizations that behave, feel, think and believe in innovation outperform against their competitors with 30% higher enterprise value and 17% higher profit growth.
From a business perspective, a great idea is valuable, whether it comes from the C-suite or the factory floor. We stand to gain so much more if we give everyone a chance to participate. None of us have the luxury of leaving ideas unspoken. Let’s surpass the innovation threshold, and reach even greater heights in the next five years.
Salman Dawood Abdulla has served as Executive Vice President, EHSSQ and Business Transformation at Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) since 2016, and has a wealth of experience designing, building, operating and maintaining large industrial plants. Since joining DUBAL (which merged with Emirates Aluminium (EMAL) to form EGA), in 1984 as an engineering apprentice, he was promoted through the ranks to a number of senior positions, including General Manager of Power & Desalination at DUBAL, Chief Operations Officer and Vice President of Operations at EMAL, and then Senior Vice President of Al Taweelah Operations, before being promoted to his current role.