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Knowledge Bank Workplace Innovation

Best practices and other information about Workplace Innovation and Smart Working

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  • Publication date: 20 August 2010
  • Date added: 20 August 2010

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Rating: Everyone expresses voice, that is the innovation power of Mars

Everyone expresses voice, that is the innovation power of Mars

2010 - At the company ‘Mars’, HRM stimulates a worldwide contest to encourage employees at all levels to participate in the innovation process and to show entrepreneurship. And in the book  ‘Innovation in the Polder'  this is encouraged.

Make the difference Award
Last November Mars promised a global 'Make the Difference Award’ which rewards employees taking initiatives in three categories: innovation, people and planet. To win an idea should be thought of and realized by the workers and the line. With this criterion the company wants to convey the belief that the contribution of each individual employee is important to the success of the company. The Mars’ Make the Difference Award is a biennial event, but Marianne Heijneman, Talent Development Manager at Mars, stresses that innovation is always encouraged. "We have a culture in which freedom and responsibility are central. At all levels employees  have their own set of tasks that they are responsible for. That means that we are looking for entrepreneurship in our employees. A lot of ideas come from the employees. That has to do with a mindset, but also with the feeling that you have the freedom to take initiatives.”

Room for mistakes
Mars does not speak of workers but of ‘associates’. The associates are asked to act as entrepreneurs. This also means that they are allowed to make mistakes, says Heijneman.
During a meeting on innovation last year parliamentarian Boris van der Ham compared companies with the school for drama where he himself  was trained. “Every time after a few weeks you have a tryout, to test what you've exercised. That should be the case in business as well. You have to test new ideas and not let anything disappear in the trash because it goes wrong twice."  Indeed Van der Ham emphasized the importance of a sufficiently high level of knowledge of employees.

HRM own processes under the microscope
Heijneman is convinced that HRM as a guardian of the entrepreneurial business climate, has to play an important role in innovation. Mars’ own HRM processes are also put under the microscope to see if innovation is necessary and possible. One of the most concrete examples is the change in the recruitment process, "Our process now consists of three phases. The first is in particular aimed at getting to know the person and see if there is a fit with the Mars-culture. In the next phase, we are trying to get more connection because we want to hire people for the future. Thus we provide a learning experience for the candidate. He goes through an assessment procedure and receive feedback on his own actions during the day. Only in the final stage, the line manager comes in to connect with the person and it is checked whether his work experience and talents fit the job and the team."
Previously, it could happen that we lose people that had a very good fit with the organisation, since we just had looked at the fit with the job. Now we get the full potential because even when people apply for a particular job, they can be employed in a very different position. Last year Mars’ HRM ended in the list of 25 best large and/or multinational operating employers in the study ‘Great Place to Work’.

Innovation from the Polder
Organisations that want to be innovative, should ensure that they have the right talent in house, write Patrick van der Duin, Rob de Graaf and Ton Langeler in their book ‘Innovation in the polder’. They argue that employees need to be challenged. With a talent management program, you go in search of the hidden qualities of staff.  ‘An HR manager can be full of ideas for new products and services, but will hardly be able to use these in performing his or her job. Since innovation is such an organisation-wide activity, you can very well use such talent in innovation projects. Plus, you can also use the knowledge of HRM to get a clear view on the impact of innovation on the organisation’, write the authors.
The fact that employees must feel safe to show entrepreneurship and must not feel anger to make mistakes, does not mean that innovative companies by definition pamper their staff. For their book the writers interviewed several experts in this field. "Take for example Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple. If that man had something in his head, he simply did it. And whoever was running for his feet, just got a very hard kick. That is leadership as well."

Reference
Nicole Weidema: ‘Iedereen steekt zijn nek uit, de innovatiekracht van Mars’ (Everyone is participating, the innovation capability of Mars),  in Intermediair PW (19-01-2010). See the attachment (in Dutch)