“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Albert Einstein’s simple words are a reminder that if we want to witness change, succeed and move forward, we have to do things differently. It’s a struggle for companies to inspire innovative cultures because the journey of achieving it is often painstaking and wrought with failure. However, with the right reinforcements employers can begin to make small innovations that one day make up a fully functioning culture of innovation.
Safety and Trust in Working Relationships
Innovation requires change and evolution. In work environments that lack safe and trusting relationships between employees and their superiors, creativity and innovative thinking are stunted. It takes guts for employees to speak up about new ideas because they will unavoidably be implying that the way things are being done isn’t good enough. Employers should consider these tips to nurture trusting relationships with their employees:
- Speak one-on-one with them. Taking the time to speak with employees privately gives managers the opportunity to open up a more personal and intimate dialogue. Encouraging them to provide feedback shows them they don’t need to be afraid to speak up. Opening up this line of communication is vital to building trust.
- Be aware. Employees don't always speak their mind, especially if they are frustrated. Having solid chemistry with someone is knowing when to pick up on their subtle hints. If managers can’t recognize when this is occurring, employees will feel that they aren’t understood.
- Be transparent. Managers should be open about their own mistakes with their team. Being truthful shows humility and will gain employees’ respect. It also puts managers on a common level with them.
- Mean what you say. Nothing disrupts trust like broken promises and empty compliments. Sincerity and follow-through will reinforce employees’ trust in their managers.
Trusting relationships lay the foundation for an innovative workforce which is why it’s valuable for trust to be instilled from day one.
Fostering the Time and Freedom to Think, Dream, and Inspire
One of the biggest struggles with cultivating an innovative workforce is finding the time and inspiration to make it happen. Companies like Google foster innovation by allowing their employees to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them. This initiative has brought forth hugely successful ideas such as Gmail and Google News.
IBM is well known for encouraging any employee to be an inventor and equips them with a team that helps them apply and land patents. Last year, the company made a world record by being the first company to earn over 7,000 patents in a single year.
Common and small-scale types of freedom that can foster innovation include:
- Work-from-home programs
- Paid vacation policies
- Flexible work schedules
- Freedom to choose which projects to work on
To get a better idea of what will help employees, employers should set parameters and get employee feedback on what is going to make the most impact on their culture.
Engaging, Empowering, and Rewarding Engaged Employees
The first step to getting employees to think creatively is to get new hires engaged in what they do. 88% of employees don’t feel passionate about their work. It’s going to be difficult to inspire employees to think innovatively about work they’re not interested in. Managers should communicate with their employees regularly to find out how to engage them in their work. The solution could be as simple as reinforcing a team atmosphere with well-connected employees.
Once they are engaged, the next step is empowerment. Empowering new employees fortifies healthy relationships and encourages innovative thinking. Employers should encourage their people to think outside-of-the-box and speak their mind. By assigning projects that utilize their strengths, managers can boost employees’ confidence and build on existing skills. Showing employees they are trusted to get through projects without micromanagement is another way to instill empowerment.
To reinforce engagement and empowerment, employers should reward those who make an effort to be creative, even if their ideas fail. Reward can be as easy as recognizing them in front of their team or mentioning their work in the weekly staff email. Managers should especially pay them recognition personally for their work.
Willingness to Take Risks
Innovation isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time, is messy, and will undoubtedly result in failures every now and then. Employers have to be willing to take a chance on their people and not place blame on them when an idea falls flat. As Mark Zuckerberg puts it, “...in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Emphasis on Continuous Improvement
Companies with innovative cultures understand a need for continuous improvement. Social trends and behaviors change constantly, which is why it’s important for employers to regularly look for ways to improve their culture.
Fostering Innovation For Your Company
Every company is different and it’s up to employers how they want to foster innovation. It could be by making small improvements to open the minds of their creative workforce, or it could be total overhauls like implementing an InnovationManagement Program. Whatever it may be, it should be constructed based on the needs and desires of the employees. Companies that don’t work towards an innovative culture will continue to lack motivated employees and consequently a stale product offering. Employers should cultivate elements of an innovative culture from day one. Why wait to see the best your people have got to offer? In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,
"One of the illusions of life is that the present hour is not the critical, decisive one."
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