Innovation is critical not only to the development of your business but also to the effectiveness of your employees. By encouraging employees to be creative, you’re launching a powerful in-house think tank that can help your company achieve its goals.
Innovation is the application of creativity — bringing about change by using ideas. Employees who have management’s blessing to be creative will take the initiative to seek new ways of doing their jobs and more efficient approaches to using company resources. They’ll bring fresh energy to bear on long-standing problems, and they’ll be more inclined to come up with preventive solutions to keep minor glitches from seeding costly crises.
When they know they’re expected to be innovative, employees bring to the table ideas that can save your company money or lead to new products, services and other avenues of growth.
How to do that
Actions speak at least as loudly as words. In addition to saying, “We want you to be creative about helping us build this company,” you must prove that you fully support an innovative mindset. Here are ten ways to encourage creativity and make the most of your employees’ ideas:
- Give employees complete freedom to offer ideas.Let them know you welcome ideas at any time, in any form: in the suggestion box; by e-mail, voice-mail or memo; at staff meetings or during hallway conversations. This encourages people to share their ideas in the first flush of enthusiasm, so that good ideas don’t end up on the back burner where they may be forgotten.
- Similarly, give employees the authority to try new ways to do their jobs.Encourage them to share problems and ideas for solutions with maintenance and production-design engineers.
- Never brush off a suggestion when you’re too busy to listen.Instead say, “I’m putting out fires here, but I’m interested — send me an e-mail, and I’ll get back to you ASAP.” Then follow through promptly. Forgetting to get back to people is the surest way to discourage the flow of ideas.
- Always acknowledge an idea.Let employees know the status of their proposals.
- Consider the merits of each idea.What would be gained by implementation? Is the idea feasible? If not, let the employee know why.
- Promote risk taking.Encourage people to try even those ideas they feel are a little risky. Remember how many of your best ideas — such as creating your own company — succeeded despite the lack of guarantees.
- Don’t punish people for “bad” ideas.Avoid criticizing or penalizing employees for coming up with seemingly great ideas that don’t pan out.
- Let people be inspired by their failures.Tell your employees “I want you to feel free to fail and try again.” Discuss what went wrong, or why the idea wasn’t really feasible, or even why it might work well under different circumstances. Failure can be the ultimate learning experience.
- Welcome ideas from all levels of the organization.When creativity is a basic tool in your company, great ideas may come from unexpected sources. Someone who has never before offered a useful suggestion might come up with a revolutionary idea you wish you’d thought of yourself. Go with it — and give the innovator full credit.
- Encourage people to help solve chronic problems.If you’ve long been struggling with a particular issue, fresh perspectives could provide a breakthrough.