Innovation amidst COVID-19 at the workplace

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Flavia M. Nabaasa, Commercialization Director CCBA Uganda

By Flavia M. Nabaasa

HAVING a sound organizational culture is critical because it determines organizational success – and we have all seen this first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is why it is important to ensure that Innovation is integrated into your organizational culture at all times: “Build Innovation into Your culture”.

Innovation is a leading indicator of an organization’s ability to achieve and maintain success, especially during hardships such as today’s uncertain, complex environment.

Victoria University

We talk about innovation, but what does that really mean? For us it is the lubricant that removes friction from the operation of a company. It is not limited to the ‘new’ but encompasses ‘relevance’ for the target group – our consumers. Innovation involves generating new knowledge or utilizing various pieces of existing knowledge. That removal of friction enables an organization to move faster and smoother – and that supports acceleration in business.

An organization that makes innovation part of its culture will always move faster even in the face of ‘friction’ like the COVID-19 pandemic.

An organizational culture that supports innovation is the product of two things: first, the people in the organization – their leadership styles, behavior, communication style, shared values, attitudes, and working practices. Secondly, the infrastructure – this includes the processes, policies and systems in the company.

Innovation is going out of the normal to provide what people need. At Coca-Cola Beverages Africa in Uganda, we focus on ‘People First’ – with or without a crisis. Whether it’s a Human Resource policy or product in the bottle, we create what works best for the People.

We have always been clear about our people agenda. Before we start any meeting, we recite three different pledges, all emphasizing our People and the values we espouse as employees. We have been taking care of our people during this time; from distributing free sanitizers to staff, their families and distributors which we started manufacturing at our Rwenzori Plant, food relief packages and financial allowances to get them through this time.

So how do we incorporate this best practice into our organizations?

To start with, is it in your mission Statement, Goals or Objectives? When you are searching for talent, do you stress the need for innovation? Do you have regular processes focused on Innovation? Is it on the meeting Agendas?  Suitable innovation comes from within: listen to your employees’ suggestions, encourage thinking outside the box, meet them at eye-level to brainstorm ideas and make them feel valued to kick off their willingness to think.

A lot of the positives we are seeing during Covid-19 should become part of our organizational DNA if they are not already there. Employers should create an atmosphere that fosters free expression of ideas between staff and management: an open door to speak your mind without fear of being ridiculed or ignored.

Innovation takes place at two levels: First, at the Individual level where the innovative individual can bring up ideas that will bring improvement in existing processes, new products in the organization. Secondly, at the organizational level where teams can be guided on the need to integrate technology.  

In September last year, we came up with our tagline for 2020 – #UnleashFullPotential. During this COVID-19 lockdown, we were amazed at how our employees did exactly that – Unleashing their full Potential.

The most important task is to change internal perceptions and shift the attitudes of employees about the impact that automation and digitization will have on their jobs. Clear communication is essential here to bring them on board. The more open they are to change, the better.

Once the lockdown was enforced, we lost no time agonizing or worrying and have been running non-stop to ensure we keep the doors open because many people and their families rely on business continuing – employees, distributors and even the government.

In all this, communication is the key in ensuring behavior change and keep staff engaged. An engaged workforce is like a well-cultivated field that will readily accept seeds and give back healthy products. Communication is essential.

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