While innovation is now considered an important part of a successful workplace in all kinds of industries, it wasn’t too long ago that the opposite was the case.
Instead of embracing innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, workplace culture generally tended to corral creativity into a few “creative” departments: marketing, graphic design, product design, etc.
Thankfully, most of us working today benefit from a widespread culture that sees the value of innovation across the board. However, “seeing the value” isn’t the same thing as “actively encouraging.”
Even at so-called creative companies, like those that develop, design, or market new products, employees don’t always feel comfortable sharing their new or risky ideas. And that can have a very real negative impact on your company’s ability to compete in a marketplace that not just rewards, but demands innovative ideas.
So what ca you do to encourage workplace innovation among your employees? Here are a few tips.
Send a clear message that feedback, new ideas, and creative thinking are welcome.
It’s easy to assume that your employees know you welcome their ideas and feedback, but are you truly sending that message? Do you actively encourage brainstorming at meetings? Do you make yourself available to employees, or do you spend most of your day behind a closed office door?
Take the time to reevaluate the message you’re sending your employees with your day-to-day behavior. If you realize that you’re not actually as available to them as you think you are, it’s time to make some changes.
Allocate time for brainstorming and problem-solving.
One of the biggest ways you can let your employees know that you value creativity in the workplace is to explicitly devote some time to it.
This can be done in a number of ways. Maybe it’s saving 15 minutes for small-group brainstorming at your next product meeting. Maybe it’s creating a monthly brainstorming session for each department.
Whatever method you choose, make sure there’s some sort of structure or specific problem that your employees are tackling. Contrary to what one might assume, structure and creativity do go hand-in-hand. If you want effective innovation to happen, it has to be guided – loosely guided, perhaps, but guided just the same.
Reevaluate your business processes – are they stifling creativity?
Even if you yourself are available to your employees, it may be that the processes employees have to go through to turn their innovative deas into reality are discouraging them from trying.
Let’s say an employee has an idea for a variation on one of your existing products that they want to explore. What do they have to do in order to get some time to experiment with the idea? Do they have to get approval from a supervisor? Does that supervisor have to get approval from other departments? Would the employee be able to do that experimentation during their normal workday, or would they have to fit it in on their lunch breaks, or after-hours?
There will always be certain processes that have to stay in place to preserve order, even if they do make it a bit harder to employees to innovate. However, it’s a near-certainty that you’ll find other barriers to innovation that can be easily removed or changed, and that’s where you want to put your focus.
Emulate start-ups and tech companies by giving employees a set amount of time to work on personal or pet projects.
There’s no question that start-ups and tech companies are some of the most innovation-friendly companies around. They have to be – that’s what they’re in the business of.
It doesn’t mean you have to go buy a ping-pong table or start hosting indie film nights, but you should give some consideration to the idea of “20 percent time,” which was originally made famous by Google. The idea is that employees can take 20 percent of their time to work on projects that would benefit the company.
While the actual existence of 20 percent time at Google has been questioned, the idea is a powerful one. If your employees know that they can spend a certain amount of time exploring new ideas on their own, many of them will – and you never know what great products might come out of it.