“Workplace Innovation in the greenhouse sector” at Groenewegen B.V.

2010 – The greenhouse sector in the Netherlands is under pressure. Higher demands by retail companies creates an increasing market pressure on the price and quality for the Dutch horticultural products. A loss of Dutch market share is at risk. Extensive automation forces workers to acquire new skills. However, there are hardly any HR positions at these companies. To improve this situation, four companies in horticulture forces have started working to gether and have set up the project “Workplace innovation in horticulture".

Why is this workplace innovation?
It is a win-win situation for both employer and employees by involving all
worker in the same degree in the organization. Managers do this, for example,
by coaching their staff in their personal development. Through increased
participation (by means of forwarding ideas and participation in team
meetings), a higher involvement is created. This increased engagement has as
impact that productivity increases. This project seeks to convert a fairly
traditional model of master-servant relationship (originated from the family
type of companies) into a less hierarchical and more enjoyable employment

The typical hierarchical, top-down and restrictive business approach, thesefour organizations have typically too few workers involved in the processes.By improving ‘employership’, these four want to increase the involvement ofemployees and increase the sense of ‘ownership’ of workers, which will help rise labor productivity.

The following principles are central:

  • All employees in the organization should be equally involved in the project.
  • A practical and transparent approach is used so that all project participants
    are equally informed.

The methodology applied during the project is derived from  IiP (Investors in People). IiP is a practical and continuous improvement process aimed at more effective operations. Dedication and commitment to staff, is the engine of this approach. IiP helps to streamline ambitions and goals of the organization and employees to one another.

In the first phase, a 0-measurement is made of the sense of ownership (SoO. Furthermore, a socalled path registration is made for each employee. Each employee receives an indication of their average labor productivity per hour. Labor productivity in this industry is measured with the number of pounds harvested of one product per hour or by the number of plants which can be handled. The SoO is measured by asking how employees think about the company and management. The higher the score, the poorer feeling of ownership. On this basis, an analysis of the labour productivity bottlenecks is made and an assessment is given for the room to improve the potential for workplace innovation.
In the second phase, the improvements for both management and employees are prepared.
Below, these are defined;

  • Improvement actions management:
    Description of the various functions
    Conducting appraisal and assessment interviews
    Introduce periodic team meetings
    Establish policy for education, training and knowledge transfer
    Improving induction of new workers
    Coaching and self-coaching
    From authoritarian to supportive leadership
    Suggestion box
    Incentives to achieve objectives
  • Improvement actions of employees:
    Consider what could be better and contribute ideas
    Constructive contribution to the work meetings
    Controlling own competencies in relation to the job requirements
    Show willingness to attend training

On the basis of these improvements are measurable objectives (SMART) have been established.

In the third phase, central meetings are conducted. This is done both by each
of the companies and with the four participating companies together. Under
guidance of Bilancia (an IiP recognized provider) all are working to achieve
the objectives and improve the corporate culture.

The fourth phase consists of a performance measurement
and evaluation. The results of the SoO scans and productivity measurement (0
measurement, interim and final) are plotted against each other for comparison.
In addition, an inventory and analysis of the developed HR tools. Participation
in training projects is registered. A process report is made throughout the
project, and a cost / benefit analysis are conducted. Finally, a business plan
made for the next phase.

Preliminary resultats
The outcome in terms of the SoO is greatly improved. By giving employees more responsibility and by being more confident, it easier to make own choices. One example is that employees record pests and diseases in crops and are more eager to report these problems. Previously, employees were not focused on such issues and a lot of time was lost. Before the project, the companies experienced a lot of loss in materials and tools. With the improved  ownership feeling, this happens less and less. The employees feel increasingly owner of both the processes and the products and materials.

Within the teams, colleagues are coaching one another on improvements and performance. A result of this is that employees are working more and more conform to the norms. There is also a fortnightly meeting in which employees insert their own agenda items. The employees now hear what is taken over and why an issue should not be supported. A direct consequence of this is that 20% more ideas are generated by employees than before the project.

Making mistakes is no longer perceived as a threat, but is seen more as a learning experience. This means that making errors is seen as a necessity, mainly to improve learning. That learning from mistakes can always be made more explicit. In addition, a new kind of leadership challenges much more than before. Employees feel they are taken much more seriously and this leads to more peace on the shopfloor. Finally, labor productivity has risen by 5 to 6%.

Bottlenecks in the process

One of the bottlenecks was to create common understanding on the shopfloor. Mainly Turkish and Moroccan workers are used to hierarchical processes and are quite suspicious why they needed to discuss work with their boss. Also, traditional managers could not always adapt to the new style of management.

The presentation: ESF E “Workplace Innovation in horticulture" by Cees Schoenmakers can be found on the website of the Social Affairs Agency:


Keywords: sociale innovatie