Insight article

Innovation at the pointy end of business

Allan Leighton, former CEO of Asda and former non-executive Chairman at Royal Mail, tells a great story about his time as a graduate trainee at Mars.

Anyone will tell you that the Mars graduate trainee scheme is held in very high regard. When Allan started out, he freely admits to being a cocky young grad who, on being asked to spend time on the production line clearing up stray Maltesers as part of his company immersion, felt it a little beneath him.

At the end of several days chasing little chocolate spheres rolling around on the floor he was more than exasperated. He’d sweep one into his dustpan, and another would roll right out again.

Cue his supervisor, who, having watched him for a week, gave him one simple piece of advice. To make his life easier, he should just tread on them first, THEN sweep them up.

Allan Leighton says he learnt an important lesson that day, and it wasn't just about humility. He learnt to learn from those who are at the sharp end of business. They’re the ones who really know what’s going on. They’re the ones who know the tricks of the trade – what levers to push and pull to make things work best.

As employers turn to their employees to solve more complex issues within their organisations, we should do more than just listen. We need to actively seek their counsel. Businesses need to tap into the wisdom of the crowd to source new, innovative ideas that can create efficiencies and better ways of working (and storytelling is a great way of sharing this knowledge).

Involving people in the conversation and allowing them to come up with ideas that make their working world better gives employees a sense of ownership of the process. And from this sense of ownership stems a culture of idea-sharing and the proactive adoption of best practice. It helps them become more valued and engaged, stimulate a far richer dialogue and ultimately become more productive.

Nailia Tasseel