The biotech industry succeeds and thrives based on the innovation it can deliver, anywhere from laboratory research to providing treatments to patients, it is a crucial driver of value. Companies face constant change, setbacks, and market disruptions, but their ability to respond and adapt while pursuing innovative developments often sets them apart from competitors.
While cutting-edge technologies and research are crucial in this pursuit, organisations often overlook one of their most valuable assets – their workforce. By embedding innovation through the workforce, businesses can unlock untapped potential, foster a culture of creativity, and maximise their prospects of long-term success.
Skills, education and experience are vital ingredients that contribute to an innovative workforce. However, how you mesh these capabilities and perspectives together, create the right environment for people, and effectively manage the organisation’s human capital will lead to sustained innovative outcomes that propel a company’s success.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Cultivating a culture that values and encourages innovative thinking is at the heart of embedding innovation through the workforce. Leaders must establish an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks, explore new ideas, and challenge the status quo. This requires a shift in mindset, focusing on learning from failures rather than punishing them. Companies can foster this culture through open communication channels, regular brainstorming sessions, and recognition of innovative efforts.
Looking Outside the Organisation
Most biotechnology companies are small in scale. The number of employees commonly runs into tens, sometimes hundreds. Their focus, adaptability and discipline have led to innovative breakthroughs that exceed that of large biopharmaceutical companies, making them a source of new drug candidates and platforms. The potential for innovation sometimes lies external to the organisation, and the workforce needs to be supported in exploring open innovation opportunities, including partnerships with academia and outsourcing innovation.
Empowering Employees with Autonomy
Innovation flourishes when individuals at all levels of the company have the autonomy to experiment and make decisions. Giving employees the freedom to explore new approaches to problem-solving allows them to bring fresh perspectives and insights to the table. Trusting employees with responsibility motivates them and fosters an ownership mindset. It is essential to align the organisation’s objectives with individual goals, enabling employees to see the direct impact of their innovations.
Decision Making Supporting Innovation
Innovative ideas and approaches can and should emanate from any area of the workforce. However, many companies have inadequate decision-making processes to allow innovative proposals to come to life inside the organisation, with the support of the relevant stakeholders and backed by capital and resources. Companies not acting positively on innovative proposals are often underserving the company’s prospects and contributing to a negative feedback process that risks demoralising employees. Understanding how and where these decisions are made in the organisation can unblock innovation bottlenecks that transform a company’s innovative strength and enhance its value.
Nurturing a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce
A diverse workforce brings a wealth of different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. This diversity catalyses innovation, as it ensures a broader range of ideas and solutions. To tap into the full potential of diversity, organisations must cultivate an inclusive environment where all employees feel valued and heard. By creating diverse teams and promoting collaboration, companies can harness the collective intelligence of their workforce to drive innovation.
Encouraging Continuous Learning and Development
Innovation thrives in an environment that fosters continuous learning. Companies should invest in training and development programs that enhance employees’ skills and encourage them to stay curious and open-minded. Learning opportunities can range from workshops and courses to mentorship programs and exposure to external thought leaders. The goal is to build a workforce that is adaptable, knowledgeable, and eager to embrace new ideas. In a highly skilled environment like biotechnology, the continuous learning demands are considerable, and organisations must closely monitor how their workforce is developing, ensuring their learning and development is optimal and effectively directed.
Recognising and Rewarding Innovation
Recognising and rewarding innovative efforts are crucial to sustaining an innovative workforce. Acknowledging employees’ contributions, whether big or small, reinforces the importance of creativity and motivates others to follow suit. Companies can establish innovation awards, recognition programs, or even offer incentives for successful ideas. This approach encourages innovation and creates a positive and supportive work environment.
Leveraging Technology for Innovation
Embracing technology is fundamental to embedding innovation in the workforce. Advanced laboratory equipment, automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics can streamline processes, giving employees more time to focus on creative problem-solving. Additionally, collaborative tools and platforms can foster teamwork and idea-sharing across departments and geographies, promoting a culture of innovation at a larger scale, something which is vital as companies grapple with virtual working. It is critical that companies invest in enabling technologies and build out innovation capabilities and infrastructure.
Clear Set of Metrics
Most companies consider themselves innovative and will promote themselves as such but do nothing to measure it truly. Having a clear set of metrics for how innovative the company is can signal how well it generates innovative ideas, the throughput of those ideas, and how it manages the innovation process. Many of these metrics are pegged to the workforce and speak to how effectively the company is stimulating innovation opportunities and delivering upon them in a productive and capital-efficient way. The use of metrics is increasingly possible with the advent of more advanced technology systems, and in biotechnology companies, where product development cycles can be lengthy, a sophisticated set of appropriate metrics can be valuable in regularly assessing aspects of the company’s performance.
By embedding innovation through the workforce, organisations can leverage their people to stay competitive and generate growth and long-term value, which will lead to continued investment in future innovation if they have set the correct systemic innovation systems in place. Cultivating a culture of innovation, empowering employees with autonomy, nurturing diversity and inclusion, encouraging continuous learning, recognising and rewarding creativity, and leveraging technology are essential steps in this journey. When employees are encouraged to think outside the box, experiment, and contribute their unique perspectives, the organisation’s potential for innovation becomes boundless. In the end, the people will drive the success of any organisation’s quest for innovation.
Liftstream is an executive search, leadership advisory and human capital solutions company working exclusively within the global life sciences sector.