By Steven Dondt et. al. | TNO – The Dutch logistics sector is regarded as being extremely productive and innovative, yet it faces major challenges. For some years now, massive investments have been made in technology programs. As an approach to the successful introduction of new technologies, the so-called »Workplace Innovation« is recommended.

Since 2011, the Dutch government and the logistics industry have been investing heavily in new technology programs as part of the Dutch »top sector« initiative to improve the performance of logistics companies in the long term. However, whether employees actually use the new technologies, actively adapt to new developments and contribute to the invention and improvement of innovations depends very much on how these innovations are perceived and designed. At present, the development of a more integrated, systemic approach in the industry is increasingly becoming a focus of attention. We are looking for specific »change practices« with which companies can introduce better human capital concepts – such as »workplace innovation« (WPI).

WPI focuses on the concept and implementation of practices or a combination of activities that empower employees, either structurally (through division of labour) or culturally (through empowerment), to engage in organizational change and renewal, i.e. to improve the quality of working life and organizational performance. WPI researchers start from the idea that »employees are our most valuable asset«. Work processes and HR practices should be organized in a way that employees benefit from a higher quality of working life and organizations achieve higher performance. In this sense, WPI can be understood as a best practice approach. With this in mind, WPI can be understood as a best practice approach.

Five paths to a successfull launch

Basically, there is not just one way to introduce or to put WPI into practice as a company – researchers have now identified five ideal paths:

  • Top management controlled WPI. The WPI initiative comes from the top management. However, the measures are implemented with the participation and support of the employees. In these cases, the employees also show the desired innovation behavior.
  • Autonomy-based WPI. This path is taken by companies that use their organizational autonomy developing WPI measures to secure their future. At the same time, employees have a high degree of autonomy and the opportunity to participate. Primarily, it is about securing the future viability and existence of the company – and not about an organizational model that strives for the highest quality of performance or the highest quality of working life.
  • Integral WPI. In this configuration, WPI measures are initiated from bottom up with the help of the employees, providing them with opportunities and skills for innovative behavior. The organization has room for maneuver for its own decisions and favours a limited division of labour. Structural and behavioural elements are integrated.
  • Employee-driven WPI. With this solution, the WPI is essentially initiated from the bottom up and implemented in a participatory manner. The organization has scope for its own decisions and at the same time leaves employees room to participate in the development of the organizational model.
  • Innovation-driven WPI. Companies that choose this path to WPI prefer a limited division of labour and allow employees to innovate or to behave innovatively (e.g. proactively developing new ideas, taking risks in developing new solutions). However, employees do not take part in the development of the organization model.

Research shows that certain combinations favor WPI, while others are less promising. Companies then have room to make their own strategic decisions. What all these paths have in common, however, is that employees should play a significant role in introducing WPI practices. 

About the author

Steven Dhondt (photo) is an employee at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO. Further authors are Paul Preenen, Peter Oeij, Katarina Putnik, Wouter van der Torre and Ernest de Vroome.