Savvy leaders shape the culture of their company to drive innovation. They know that it’s culture—the values, norms, unconscious messages, and subtle behaviors of managers and employees —that often limits performance. These invisible forces are often responsible for the failure of organizational change efforts. The trick? Design the interplay between the company’s explicit strategies and the ways people actually relate to one another and to the organization.
What is innovation? What is creativity? What is the difference between innovation and creativity? But most importantly, which is more important to your organization?
When it comes to innovation versus creativity, opinions diverge. One of the definitions out there relates to the practicality of these terms. Some say that creativity refers to the ability to come up with new ideas or new ways to approach old problems, whereas innovation is the ability to confine these creative ideas and make them turn into reality.
In other words, creative ideas are thought experiments within one person’s mind. Innovation, on the other hand, is concerned with the actual implementation of an idea. An organization can use innovation to convert its creative resources into appropriate solutions and reap a return on its investment.
Because people are often unclear about the exact meanings of these two terms, organizations often chase creativity when what they really need to pursue is innovation.
Organizations need innovation on all fronts – not just in new products, services, or technologies. Unfortunately, many managers don’t innovate because they don’t think it’s their job to do so. I say that innovation is everyone’s job. Great organizations don’t depend on a small number of exclusive people to come up with innovations.
Instead, they create a culture in which every employee is encouraged and empowered to innovate. Innovation leads not only to new customer offerings, but also to better margins, stickier customer relationships, and stronger partnerships with other firms.
Here are 10 ways to encourage innovation at your workplace:
1. Give employees a reason to care
The fact is, if people aren’t feeling connected to your company, there’s little incentive for them to be innovative. Make sure your employees are in the loop on your firm’s strategies and challenges, and invite their input. Employees who are involved early on in processes and plans will be motivated to see them through to completion.
2. Stress the importance of innovation
Ensure all your employees know that you want to hear their ideas. Unless they understand how innovating your business processes can keep your firm competitive, your efforts at encouraging creative thinking risk falling flat.
3. Schedule time for brainstorming
Allocate time for new ideas to emerge. For example, set aside time for brainstorming, hold regular group workshops, and arrange team days out. A team involved in a brainstorming session is likely to be more effective than the sum of its parts. You can also place suggestion boxes around the workplace, appeal for new ideas to solve particular problems, and always keep your door open to suggestions and new ideas.
4. Train staff in innovation techniques
Your staff may be able to bounce an idea around, but be unfamiliar with the skills involved in creative problem solving. You may find training sessions in formal techniques, such as lateral thinking and mind mapping worthwhile.
5. Encourage change
Broadening people’s experiences can be a great way to spark ideas. Short-term job swaps can introduce a fresh perspective to job roles. Encourage people to look at how other businesses do things, even those in other sectors, and consider how they can be adapted or improved.
6. Challenge the way staff work
Encourage employees to keep looking anew at the way they approach their work. Ask people whether they have considered alternative ways of working and what might be achieved by doing things differently.
7. Be supportive
Respond enthusiastically to all ideas and never make someone offering an idea feel foolish. Give even the most apparently eccentric of ideas a chance to be aired.
8. Tolerate mistakes
A certain amount of risk taking is inevitable with innovation. Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them. Never put off the creative flow by penalizing those whose ideas don’t work out.
9. Reward creativity
Be among the 44% of companies that reward their employees’ creativity. Motivate individuals or teams who come up with innovative ideas through an awards scheme, for example.
10. Act on ideas
Remember, innovation is only worthwhile if it results in action. Provide the time and resources to develop and implement those ideas worth acting upon. Failure to do so not only means your firm will fail to benefit from innovation, but the flow of ideas may well dry up if employees feel the process is pointless.
About the author: Suhail Al-Masri has more than 20 years of experience in sales leadership, consultative sales, account management, marketing management, and operations management including working as VP of Sales at Bayt.com, the Middle East’s leading job site.