Workplace Innovation



Marie Madden, Ideas Institute & Tina Maguire Smith, Manufacturing Division

What is Workplace Innovation and why use it?  Workplace Innovation aims to improve workplace performance and working lives and to stimulate positive organisational change through inclusive dialogue and by releasing the creativity of employees.  SIPTU will utilise Workplace Innovation as one method to help retain and ultimately increase employment in the manufacturing sector

In the Manufacturing Division, we have taken our role seriously and in conjunction with the IDEAS Institute, we have already demonstrated our commitment to secure the future of Irish manufacturing in a very real and practical way.    We have developed and successfully “road-tested” a robust yet flexible model that guarantees “the co-ordinated and collaborative approach” mentioned above.  Our joint union-management approach is actively working in a number of manufacturing companies.  This union-led initiative is the pragmatic response needed to strengthen, and grow, the Irish manufacturing sector.  This is the SIPTU response to the present crisis.

How it works

A detailed procedure has been developed to show how the initial contacts are made with both sides.   Our members are always consulted first.   The process will consist of meeting(s) with shop stewards/committee and whatever additional general meetings/discussions are required.  It is only with members’ approval that the management team are spoken to.

Our initial meeting with management is especially critical.  The traditional assumption made is that the union is clearly “part of the problem”.   Senior managers need to be convinced that we can bring a new and creative energy to the table and, therefore, we should be viewed instead as a critical “part of the solution”.   Hence, this first meeting with management is vitally important and may be the only chance we get to make the case for our involvement in the change process.   The importance of this initial meeting is explained below:


General President, Jack O’Connor

If both sides agree to proceed, then the next step is the selection/establishment of the JUMSG.  This group will determine the overall strategic direction to be taken.  Thus, the make-up of the JUMSG is critical to future success and all JUMSG members must be leaders and influencers – all fully committed to and supportive of this joint union-management approach.     This requires the involvement of visionary shop stewards as well as committed senior managers.    This group (JUMSG) become the leaders of the change process.

Both sides must be comfortable in moving into such a joint approach.   If either side will not agree to fully engage, then the process cannot begin.    A useful analogy is the scrum in a game of rugby football.

Both sides need to:
“Crouch” — – get ready and consider the process and potential outcomes,
“Touch” — – make meaningful and constructive contact with the opposition,

“Pause” — take time to evaluate and consider response and align thinking
“Engage” — both sides must stick their respective necks out and strive to keep the scrum from collapsing.

The JUMSG attend the 6-day FETAC accredited “Teamwork Training Course (G20034 Level5).   During the course they complete the following tasks: –

Agree a set of “Ground Rules” that they will be used not only throughout the course, but also as they continue to function as a JUMSG into the future.  Discuss and agree their own “Terms of Reference” — i.e. what is within their remit as a JUMSG .  Experience has shown that IR/HR issues should not to be included.

Establish jointly a “warts-and-all” assessment of the current state of play within the organisation, i.e. a statement outlining clearly “where are we now”.  This becomes the agreed starting point of the journey.

Establish a joint vision of where the plant should be in the future.    This is not a corporate document handed down from the CEO in Boston or Berlin.   This is a vision developed by local stakeholders and reflects their aims and aspirations.     This is a powerful statement of intent and can be used to keep all parties focussed, and to firmly reprimand any players who may be tempted to go off on long solo runs.

Long term plans for communicating/engaging with and/or training all employees are explored and agreed.

All these activities are facilitated and conducted in a constructive fashion, in a safe atmosphere that is conducive to delivering “win/win” outcomes.

When completed these outcomes are presented jointly by JUMSG members to all employees within the plant.


Professor Peter Tottersdill, UKWIN & Tony Murphy, Ideas Institute

In the first phase of our Joint Union-Management Steering Group (JUMSG) model, we provide teamwork training to the entire workforce.   Upon completion of the teamwork course, fully equipped and functional teams that have already “delivered” continuous improvement project(s) are established within the company.  One of the key on-going roles of the JUMSG is to provide a safe and supportive environment that will encourage further team development and activity.

How it works

The second phase is designed to build on the momentum established and provide further training to established teams.    This will prevent the “effectiveness decay” shown in Figure 1 happening.   The training selected is company specific, and is chosen to provide the continued upward improvement in effectiveness, and may be drawn down from the following menu of “options” which, incidentally and very importantly, we can deliver: –

Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) — technique for reduction of change-over times
“Lean”/Toyota Production System — identification and elimination of waste in all it is forms
Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) — operations and maintenance working closely together to reduce machine downtime
Preventive Maintenance (PM) — operations and maintenance working closely together to identify and schedule preventive activities to improve machine uptime
Statistical Process Control (SPC)/Six Sigma — using statistical techniques to monitor and control production processes.

Phase II is designed to hold, and build on, the gains sustained as a result of implementing teamwork using our joint union management approach.   The skills/training required to move into Phase II will be identified by the JUMSG and will reflect their specific needs    as they respond to the operational circumstances in which they find themselves.

On-going Work

A very successful conference on Workplace Innovation was held on the 30th April and 1st May 2013 at the Green Isle Hotel, Dublin.

The conference was jointly hosted by SIPTU’s Manufacturing Division and the IDEAS Institute.  It included speakers and participants from trade unions, government, state agencies and employers. European guests including representatives from EUWIN, an EU Funded project on workplace innovation, also contributed to the conference.

At the conference the Manufacturing Division, IDEAS Institute and EUWIN launched the ‘Dublin Declaration’ on Workplace Innovation which was adopted by delegates.


Tony Murphy, Ideas


Social partners as knowledgeable participants in workplace innovation

The following declaration is endorsed by delegates at the Workplace Innovation: Translating Policy into Practice conference in Dublin on 30th April / 1st May 2013 and by social partners within the framework of the European Workplace Innovation Network (EUWIN).


Trade unions and employers’ organisations throughout Europe face challenges of adaptation in an increasingly volatile global environment. They have essential roles to play in building a European economy based on high performance, high quality of working life and high levels of social inclusion. The rapid pace of workplace change creates opportunities to deploy the knowledge and expertise of social partners in new and exciting ways.

Europe needs workplace innovation. It creates the conditions within which enterprises can use and develop the talents, knowledge and creativity of employees at all levels to the fullest possible extent. Workplace innovation is defined by evidence-based approaches to work organisation, human resource management and the implementation of technologies. Such evidence shows that workplace innovation produces win-win-win benefits for enterprises, workers and society. Yet only a minority (and in some countries a very small minority) of enterprises are using these proven approaches systematically. Europe cannot afford this waste of potential.

Trade unions and employers’ organisations both possess unique insight into “what works” in change and innovation in private and public sector enterprises. They are repositories of experience embracing many different situations and stretching over many years. Yet this experience and understanding is often an underused resource in supporting the transformation of European workplaces.

For unions, the casework experience accumulated by frontline representatives and local/sectoral officials offers powerful insight into strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for workplace change. However this knowledge is only utilised when unions are actively included in dialogue about innovation and change. At strategic level unions can deliver robust advice and consultancy, securing trust from employees and employers alike. This requires new forms of support and recognition from unions for representatives and officials.

By listening to their members’ experiences, employers’ organisations can accumulate a unique body of knowledge and expertise grounded in hard evidence. This also provides a sound basis for shared learning and for the delivery of evidence-based consultancy at workplace level.

Workplace partnership arrangements must move beyond industrial relations. Collaborative management–union forums, as well as works councils can become drivers for improvement and innovation through trust, shared commitment to mutually beneficial outcomes and ability to overcome barriers to sustainable change.

Social partners have a key role to play in public policy advocacy and policy implementation, encouraging and helping government agencies at local, regional, national and EU levels to intervene proactively to support and sustain effective workplace innovation.

In conclusion, social partners need to become learning organisations through innovation in roles and structures if they are to realise their full potential in stimulating and resourcing positive workplace change. This includes the potential for collaborative innovation between unions and employers’ organisations.

While important and inspiring examples can be found in Europe there is no blueprint; each social partner needs to find a model which reflects its specific geographical, historical and sectoral context.

EUWIN will help to stimulate such innovation in social partner roles and organisational structures through its Social Partner Panels and wider dissemination activities.


Workplace Innovation Conference




27 June 2013
Eurofound launches a report on work organisation and innovation in Ireland:

Innovation and workplace organisation in Ireland, a leading light and good example for Europe

(Dublin, Ireland): Employers, employer associations and trade unions have an important role to play in promoting work organisation innovations which can provide win–win benefits for employers and workers alike in Irish workplaces. This is according to a new report by Eurofound, the Dublin-based EU agency. The report will be launched today by Sean Sherlock TD, Minister of State for Research and Innovation within the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. 

Innovations in work organisation have the potential to optimise production processes in companies and improve employees’ overall experience of work. It may also lead to wider innovation in products and services, which could result in employment growth. The Work organisation and innovation in Ireland report explores the links between innovations in work organisation – under the broader label of high performance work practices (HPWPs) – and the potential benefits for both employees and businesses.

It draws on empirical evidence from three case studies in the manufacturing business (car parts, packaging and medical devices) in the Republic of Ireland, where workplace innovations were a response to business and marketplace pressures, turning these into positive outcomes.

In Ireland, considerable policy interest has been given to social partnership and fostering innovation in employment practices over the past two decades, although this has come under increasing pressure as a result of the financial crisis.

In all three case studies, trade union representatives played a significant role in facilitating employee acceptance of the innovations and in implementing the changes. Trade union sources also provided inspiration for some of the elements of partnership working and problem-solving through the work of the Ideas Institute, set up by the trade union SIPTU.

‘It is clear that the policy stimulus to promote social partnership in Ireland and the work over the past 10 years to promote work organisation innovations have had a positive legacy,” says Sean Sherlock TD, Irish Minister of State for Research and Innovation. ‘Within the case study organisations reviewed in Eurofound’s report, the adoption of innovative practices has helped to secure and sustain employment and workplaces.’

The report encourages the Irish government to take the opportunity, following its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, to engage with its successor Presidencies to promote the diffusion of HPWPs across the European Union and to showcase the innovations that have taken place within workplaces in Ireland to inspire employers in other Member States.

The report will be launched by Sean Sherlock TD, Minister of State for Research and Innovation within the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at 14:00 on Thursday 27 June, at Eurofound in Loughlinstown, Dublin 18. The event is open to the media.

The Work organisation and innovation in Ireland report is available here


For further information, contact Måns Mårtensson, Eurofound’s media manager, on email, telephone: +353-1-204 3124, and mobile: +353-876-593 507.
NOTES TO THE EDITORThe European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working conditions (Eurofound) is a tripartite European Union Agency, whose role is to provide knowledge  in the area of social and work-related policies. Eurofound was established in 1975 by Council Regulation (EEC) No. 1365/75 of 26 May 1975.


For further information on the campaign contact:

Manufacturing Division Organiser: Gerry McCormack: 087-6784769

Industrial Organiser: Michelle Quinn: 087-7983612

Workplace Innovation Engineer: Tony Murphy:  087-2236409

IDEAS Institute, Manager, Ron Kelly: 087-2361757

EUWIN/UKWON, Professor Peter Totterdill: +44 7887 821 388