How Do You Encourage The ‘Innovative Idea’? Four Strategies To Spur Innovation Within Your Organization
Innovation is the lifeblood of many firms. But rigorous self-evaluation and a drive to evolve into something greater—that’s really where I believe innovation (and a company focused on delivering innovative products and services) starts. Here are four strategies I’ve found invaluable.
Hire the right people.
Of course, you want to bring on people with all the requisite skills and experience. But to be innovative, you also need a flexible mindset and a willingness to challenge the status quo. On top of imagination and creativity, some of the traits I look for when hiring include:
Caring: Innovation stems from a desire to create something better. Whether that desire comes from an internal motivation to improve or some external reward, that engagement is necessary.
Persistent: To be innovative, you’ll have to knock down a few walls and withstand pushback. Even in the best of environments, people often resist change.
Curious And Process-Oriented: Those who ask “why” are more likely to uncover better ways of doing things.
Collaborative: It’s rare when the Innovative Idea arises strictly from one person. Most innovations are the result of cooperation among individuals and teams with varying perspectives but a common mission.
Build the right culture.
As a leader, perhaps the biggest impact you can have in encouraging innovation is building a culture to promote it.
Understand what innovation looks like. A fully formed idea that revolutionizes your business doesn’t just fall into your lap. Innovation might evolve out of an idea that only partially hits the mark—but the part that does is something you can build on. In my experience, the Innovative Idea is the result of teamwork, where diverse viewpoints shape a loose concept into an impactful initiative.
Create a supportive atmosphere. Don’t penalize (even unintentionally) those who try new ideas and fail. Failure is a necessary part of the innovative process. Encourage risk-taking and experimentation.
Get everyone engaged. Make it clear that everyone shares in the responsibility for innovation. Most employees will deprioritize innovative thinking in the face of day-to-day projects—unless you make innovation a priority.
Give employees time and space. Every leader wants to be innovative, but few want to devote the necessary time and resources to make it happen, especially if that means pushing back deadlines. Still, it can be done: Google and 3M allot a portion of the workday for their employees to explore nontraditional solutions to project work.
Celebrate successes. The best way to demonstrate innovation’s importance to your company is to celebrate—and reward—those whose outside-the-box thinking leads to improvement, even if only in small ways.
Eliminate burnout. While necessity can be the mother of invention, continuous stress can wear down your employees and reduce their effectiveness. Promote a healthy work-life balance and foster a positive work environment. You’ll get more creative, innovative thinking in return.
Imagine an employee in your organization has that truly Innovative Idea. What is keeping that Innovative Idea from bubbling up? Does that employee feel no one is interested in their idea? Do they have no easy way to share it? Are there layers of bureaucracy in your organization, any one of which could nip this Innovative Idea in the bud?
One of the most important roles for any leader is removing obstacles that handcuff your employees’ potential. That includes identifying and removing conditions that stifle innovation. Some ways to do that include:
Publicize a formal submission process. Whether it’s an innovation team, an intranet portal or a simple suggestion box, your employees need a means with which to share new ideas.
Establish a feedback process. Employees won’t share their Innovative Ideas if they feel no one is listening. Having a feedback process and demonstrating that ideas get due consideration will go a long way toward building an innovative culture.
Make it easy. How are employees sharing their ideas? Are they filling out a form asking for a business case, rationale or proposed costs? While these are necessary questions to consider (eventually), the more hoops you make them jump through, the less likely they’ll share their ideas. Red tape is the enemy of innovation—remove it!
Create a plan for evaluation and implementation.
When you have an Innovative Idea, you’re going to want to know if it is implemented and successful. That requires leaders to embrace data (both objective and subjective) and analytics. When evaluating an idea, ask yourself:
What does success look like? Are you measuring the right data? Are you able to attribute a change in outcomes to the Innovative Idea?
What do your stakeholders think? What feedback are you getting from the field? An innovation is only successful if your end users are willing to apply it.
Whatever your implementation plan is, make it timely. A long wait between implementation and analysis can discourage momentum and employee engagement.
Michelangelo reportedly believed that the complete sculpture was already in the marble block; he just had to chisel away the excess. Much like this famous story, the Innovative Idea is already within your organization. What are you going to do to uncover it?
Previously published on Forbes.