Innovation starts, at its very basic level, as a disruption of the old. It can be implemented in processes, services, products, and strategies. Creativity can be a powerful ingredient for better problem-solving and innovation and has become an asset in every field. Once employees begin to think creatively, they can unlock the ability to dramatically improve a product, position, or company for the better. Most employees have interests outside of work and possess varied backgrounds. They may have acquired skills in previous fields that they don’t even realize can be applied to their current position. Bringing those skills to a job that doesn’t explicitly require them can create innovative ways of getting ahead. Take the example of someone with computer programming skills now working in a managerial role. What if she wrote a short program to shorten the amount of time spent analyzing data in order to spend more time on other managerial tasks? This employee’s efficient use of skills saves company funds and resources and allows for employee and company growth.
Unfortunately, not all employees are going to take on such initiatives on their own. Sometimes an incentive or reward can do the trick, but according to a study in a Harvard Business Review article, these incentives are best reserved for a job done well and are not as effective as a general motivational tool. Offering a financial reward only to accepted ideas that were implemented into action motivated fewer, but higher quality proposals that were more likely to succeed. On the same note, some research shows that financial incentives for innovation can actually stifle creativity completely. So what is the real key to incentivizing creativity? Getting your employees to care, feel connected, and challenged, which requires more than simply offering a reward.
How to boost innovation:
- Create a strong team that will help turn their creative ideas into reality. If you want your team to be innovative, start at the beginning: think outside-the-box when you’re hiring. Someone who doesn’t necessarily fit the psychological profile of the office will add different ways of thinking to create fresh ideas. This diversity should be applied to leaders as well, ensuring they have been assigned to the right role. A creative employee’s eccentricities are often what help them to be innovative; they question the norm and push boundaries for results.
Involve your employees early, this will help them feel invested and more likely to implement innovative ideas from start to finish. Use techniques for brainstorming such as mind-mapping and lateral thinking, and emphasize the importance of homework vs. teamwork. Brainstorming should be done individually and in a group, this way employees all have innovative ideas to contribute and bounce off of one another to create stronger thought patterns. If your team is lacking in new ideas, work with your existing team by jostling their way of thinking. Prioritize trust and learning by getting to know your employees personally and recognizing their specific skills. This will help you assess what creative assignments to put them forward for, who to ask for ideas, and when. This will also help assign a project outside of their norm, use incentive deadlines, balance tasks with rewards, and raise the stakes just enough to create a challenging and exciting motivation for creativity. This will automatically trigger a new way of thinking and perhaps sprout new innovative solutions.
- Implement an innovative culture by encouraging a growth mindset in the workplace. This requires openness to ideas, change, and failure. Make employees feel comfortable offering any innovative ideas they may have, even if they’re not the right fit. Encourage them to let you know their ideas through an email, a message board, an idea box, or any means that will be regularly checked and acknowledged by management. This way if the employee is enthusiastic about an idea, they know it will be heard either immediately or in a timely fashion. If it is not an opportune moment to acknowledge their efforts, hold back from brushing them off. Assure them you’re interested and will check it out soon. This way, employees from all levels within the company can feel free to implement ideas, because you never know where a fresh change could come from. Additionally, try the simplest perspective trick to encourage positive results. Using the words “Yes, and” rather than “Yes, but” creates an environment of encouragement. It recognizes the obstacles in the idea and promotes the employee to continue digging deeper.
- Start solving internally by encouraging employees to bring forward job or company problems as well as their solutions. This will help the employees air their frustrations and be heard, and in turn, help them feel more in control of their tasks. Keep track of an efficient employee’s shortcuts, even if they were unauthorized. Sometimes these loopholes are created by the employee to get through the mundane and bureaucratic tasks quickly and are actually very innovative ideas that shouldn’t be overlooked. If the ideas ultimately don’t fit, and the merits and downfalls have been considered, let the employee know why they won’t work.
- Then get out of the office, literally and figuratively. Experiment with open concepts, designated rooms with creative atmosphere, or spending some time with the team outdoors. Look for ideas in other industries to study how they encounter and solve complications, for a different way of thinking. Allot a specific time for employees to work on ideas away from their daily duties, hold creative workshops, or monthly meetings outside of the office. Not only will this change be an incentive, but employees will look forward to this time and be motivated to innovate. The change of environment will change the mindset of your employees to think out-of-the-box, as they will literally be out-of-the-box!
- Encourage failure and risk, and in turn, stifle fear. The enemy of creativity is fear, and failure is one of the main engines of anxiety in creativity. There is an element of vulnerability to creation that if stopped by fear, will be extinguished. Realistically, not every idea will be the best one, but by encouraging employees to take a risk, you will establish trust by allowing an employee to feel that they can fail and try again. Let the employee know where their idea is lacking and encourage them to keep trying.
- Execute employee ideas and reward successful innovation. Employees feel motivated and empowered when their creative ideas are chosen and implemented. Initiate a strategy to execute innovative ideas and embrace change. If ideas are never taken to action, employees will view their efforts to be useless and lose motivation to bring ideas forward. Create an idea management system that clarifies where and who started the innovative idea. Keeping track of this will help motivate innovation at any level and keep the company growing. Once a successful idea is chosen, then reward the employee. This can come in the form of financial compensation, flexible work hours, remote assignments; something that suits the specific employee’s needs and keeps them happy and motivated to create more innovative ideas.
Creativity is a tricky thing – you can’t force it. As much as you try to motivate it, it will equally disappear. Creativity and innovation come when there is an environment of trust, patience, freedom, and purpose.