Insight Professional development

How professional development fosters innovation

Innovation is not being afraid to fail. It’s taking risks, trying new things, and breaking boundaries. Keely Witherow explains how organisations can create a culture of innovation through learning and development. 

Here’s where learning and development (L&D) training make an impact: The most recent report from found that companies with executives highly engaged in L&D are three times more likely to say their company has a culture of innovation.

The report features exclusive interviews with L&D professionals at Bayer, EY, Bonobos, and CyberCoders who are working to bring their companies into the future.

To boost innovation in your own company, follow in the footsteps of companies who are unafraid to take risks, create environments where employees can personalise their learning, and are role models in terms of L&D.

Share ideas

A bright idea can be extinguished if it’s not nurtured by colleagues and managers. Encouraging idea-sharing among your team and even across organisations should be a priority in any innovation strategy.

The L&D team at recruitment firm CyberCoders, a permanent placement recruiting firm, aims to make this possible through its Associate Recruiter Incubator Program, which is geared towards new employees and combines intensive education with mentoring to ensure that they have the skills they need to excel in the tech industry.

“For this programme, my team and I hire, manage, train, and ramp up individuals that have no prior sales or recruiting experience,” says Dani Chang, training manager at CyberCoders.

New recruiters are trained for a period of eight weeks and upon graduation are put into teams based on their management style. “This has greatly contributed to a culture of idea-sharing and cohesiveness. Once on teams, they are exposed to new techniques from their managers and teammates,” Chang says.

Training employees who come from diverse backgrounds means that fresh ideas are hatched and grown in-house and are shared organically throughout the team.

Take risks

For pharmaceutical giant Bayer, innovation is all about risk-taking. With so many effective L&D methods and mediums, it’s important to think outside the box and to never be afraid of re-calibrating based on results.

Bayer’s head of US learning & talent development, Karen Bicking, piloted an action learning programme for the pharmaceutical side of the company in 2018. This sparked an almost immediate effect.

“We took some leaders and they delivered work on projects that were outside of their normal space,” she says. “They gained experience beyond their regular role and gained exposure to senior leaders. We’ve seen a great outcome from that with a number of them being promoted already even though the programme has just concluded.”

Since not every experiment will yield such great results, it’s important to continuously evaluate and monitor feedback in order to find the best path towards innovation.

Embrace diversity

Research shows that companies with diverse and inclusive workforces are more innovative and profitable.

Take Bayer, for example: The company can thank its stellar diversity program for winning The Catalyst Award, which is the highest honor for diversity in the US.

Bicking attributes this success to the active promotion of women in the workplace, saying: “We have programmes geared toward diversity and inclusion, so we partner with some external organisations to help develop our women leaders.”

Other companies, including EY, are using diversity to set themselves apart from the competition and to spark innovation within the team. Martin Hayter, EY’s global assurance learning leader describes the workplace culture:

“The team has a global flavor to it. It brings more creativity and higher quality and we know that the content we develop is going to be applicable to different cultures, and to both emerging and mature markets.”

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is becoming a global trend. As illustrated by the UK L&D report from, D&I is one of the five training courses most demanded in 2019. Organisations are more aware of the importance of developing these areas because when it comes to D&I training, companies that fall behind will get left behind.

Support strengths

When employees feel free to take risks without repercussions, it opens the door to innovation.

This is the idea behind the L&D strategy at Bonobos, the first digitally native vertical brand. The brand’s director of employee experience, Tiffany Poppa, says focusing on employees’ individual strengths has been key to creating a culture of innovation.

“Focusing on strengths creates trust; it creates a safe space to try something and possibly fail, have a conversation about it, and move forward,” sye says.

For Bonobos, innovation is a by-product of a culture that prioritises relationship-building and trust between employees and managers over learning hard skills.

“Our strengths-based approach has effectively fostered a culture of collaboration and open communication because it celebrates the individual,” Poppa says. “Focusing on what’s right with people makes for an inclusive environment where people can openly express themselves, their ideas, and even their challenges.”

The takeaway? Create programmes that allow employees to cultivate their individual strengths while building relationships with others on the team. Where there’s support, there’s innovation - and trust needs to exist between team members for innovation to flourish.


Since moving from Texas to Sweden to complete a master’s degree in international and European relations, Keely Witherow has utilised her interest in cross-cultural relations to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Whether she’s keeping up with the latest L&D trends, interviewing top training providers, or writing content for, she lives by the words of the great Dr. Seuss: “The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”

Share this article