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Workplace Wisdom

Competitive advantage through innovation

Business organizations are constantly faced with the challenge of gaining competitive advantage over competitors. Developing that special edge may mean survival for some or a way to stay on top of competition for others.

A critical ingredient for staying on top is innovation. To be innovative is seeing things from new angles, having broad perspectives, taking risks and being flexible. Promoting innovation in the workplace entails encouraging employees to become idea champions.

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Two indispensable and strategic ways of developing idea champions are extensive and continuing training, and development programs.

To uncover the current training and development experiences and the emerging practices of large corporations in the country, Dr. Divina Edralin, a management and organizational development expert, conducted a research that involved 120 Philippine companies.

According to Edralin, large companies see training and development as a vital strategy in human resource management because this stimulates innovation among employees.

Training and development do not just improve job performance but also develop creativity and problem-solving skills. They also contribute to employee flexibility, especially in adapting to change.

Further, results of the study showed that training and development create a company environment that will change and build employees’ commitment as well as sense of ownership. It can also achieve a balance between the firm’s current performance and necessary innovation.

To realize these, however, there must be genuine commitment and strong desire among company executives to use this strategy.

Also, leaders must have positive attitudes and demonstrate supportive behaviors to encourage employees’ participation in the training programs.

An example is by rewarding or publicly recognizing effective innovations developed by employees from applying their learning from employee development initiatives.

Edralin observed that to pursue innovation through learning, manufacturing and nonmanufacturing companies use different training methods: presentation methods such as the use of lecture and audio-visual techniques; hands-on methods such as on-the-job training and behavioral modeling; and group-building methods such as team training and adventure learning. A combination of these different methods is sometimes used to enhance the creative, problem-solving, and people skills of employees.

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Results of the study emphasized that to gain competitive advantage through training and development programs require the organization to apportion adequate resources in terms of budget, time, and expertise for training.

Experts from both internal and external sources may be tapped. Use of new learning technologies such as CD-ROM, Internet and company intranet/portal in training delivery, storage and sharing of knowledge may also be maximized.

Innovation may be a challenge for management; but it is the only route to sustained success. If one wants to fuel innovation among one’s employees, it would definitely not hurt to invest in training and development.

(Dr. Marshaley J. Baquiano is currently the head of the Graduate School of Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology. The article was based on the research conducted by Divina M. Edralin entitled “Training and Development Practices of Large Philippine Companies” published in the Asia Pacific Business Review 17(2), April 2011. For comments or inquiries, send e-mail to [email protected])

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