Innovative Workplaces. Making better use of skills within organisations

2010 – Innovation is a key driver for economic growth. While the models for innovation were focused on Research & Development, lately a shift can be seen in the direction of other important factors for innovation. The report of the OECD contributes to this broader debate by highlighting the importance of the organization of work and the learning organization and the employee.

The learning organization in the literature
In the literature, no single definition of the ‘learning organization’  is used. Some general features can be appointed, however. Learning organizations are organizations that can change and remain competitive through learning. A learning organization uses management tools that promote learning at both the individual level and at the level of the organization.
Researchers look at the relationship between individual behavior, team building, organizational structure and culture and  in particular the culture with respect to learning in an organization. A large group of researchers is also involved with HRM that is supposed to promote learning in an organization.
The report by the OECD uses the following definition: “A learning organization is an organization in which a high level of autonomy in work is combined with a high level of learning, problem solving and task complexity."

Research in Europe
In Europe there is a great variety of forms of work organization and forms of learning. Research results show that companies make more use of internal innovation in countries where the work is organized in such a way  that employees have a high degree of autonomy in solving complex problems. In countries where this is not the case, companies are primarily dependent on other suppliers of innovation.
The results suggest that to stimulate innovation by European companies it may be wiser to invest in learning work organizations than trying to raise investment in R&D. In particular, because the level of R&D investment is highly dependent on the industrial structure of a country and therefore difficult to change.

Organizational structure and HRM
When designing an organization entrepreneurs face a trade-off between structure and innovation. Innovation must be sustainable and changes may not threaten the structure of an organization, while the organization wants to be flexible at the same time.
In addition to the structure of an organization, HRM and information management are important. Training and multi-employability may prevent that employees resist innovation because they are afraid that their skills become no longer required. It is also important that the balance between effort and reward remains intact and that there is openness about the salary policy, to promote confidence.

National policy

Survey results also show that the way work is organized is highly dependent on the labor market and the labor market policy of a country, such as unemployment benefits and what is being done to get unemployed back to work. This must also be taken into account in innovation policy alongside more attention to the work organization. Several countries have policies to promote innovative workplaces. There are job development courses that focus on productivity and quality of work. And there are knowledge and learning networks.

Attached is the full report: Innovative Workplaces. Making better use of skills within organizations (2010) of the OECD.