Innovation doesn’t just spur growth; it’s fundamental for a company’s survival. As markets become increasingly saturated and disruptions become more and more commonplace, companies that fail to keep up with constant innovations to meet demands will be outbid and outclassed.
As we stand on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution–the technological revolution–encouraging more innovation amongst employees is essential.
The trouble is, creating new cultures of innovation in companies that have gotten by with playing it safe all these years is no mean feat. But without having employees who are both willing and able to see the process of innovation from start to finish, and back again, you’ll get nowhere.
In that regard, here are six ways you can encourage employees to be more innovative in the workplace.
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If you truly want to encourage more innovation in your team, you need to keep employee engagement levels high.
Half-hearted or unpassionate employees won’t be motivated to keep coming up with new ideas or new ways to be the best at what they do.
They tend to prefer sticking to the status quo and only do what they’re expected to do instead of going above and beyond the call of duty. That’s not the kind of attitude you want if you’re hoping for better innovation.
Company culture plays a massive part in determining the quantity and quality of workplace innovation.
Severe penalties for failure set pervasive stigmas against it, which can do a lot to discourage the kind of experimentation that’s necessary for innovativeness. That includes normalising counter-productive behaviours like finger-pointing and playing the blame game when it comes to failures.
By default, innovation involves experimenting. If people aren’t willing to work through the process of innovation because the costs of failure are too high, the company as a whole loses.
Help your employees to embrace failure by:
Data doesn’t lie. According to PwC’s 2017 Innovation Benchmark Report, 60% of surveyed companies cited internal employees as the most critical partner for innovation, more so than establishing clear business models for innovation or increasing innovation budgets.
Clearly, top-down directives for innovation aren’t enough; they have to be met with bottom-up buy-in.
Just look at Google, Facebook, and even 3M. Some of their most popular products (including Gmail, News Feeds, and Post-Its) were the brainchildren of innovative employees who weren’t necessarily in supervisory or managerial positions.
Instead of focusing your efforts on a single innovation team, look at how you can involve all your employees in the process of innovation.
Google, for example, has its famous 20% time; every Googler get 20% of each work day to pursue personal projects. Similarly, Facebook holds fortnightly 24-hour hackathons for its developers.
It’s easy to get carried away or lost in the white noise of the process, but you need to ensure that everyone knows there’s a clear justification for innovation. Innovation for its own sake will get you nowhere.
Just as a clear problem statement facilitates creativity, innovation is facilitated by a clear vision of the value that it needs to create. Knowing who the end user is and what their pain points are with regards to a particular process or product makes it easier to come up with innovative solutions to tackle the issue.
Without the willingness to take risks, innovation simply will not occur on the scale that you’d like it to. This is especially true here in Singapore, where risk-averse mindsets are relatively more common in the workforce than they are in other parts of the globe.
It relates back to the stigma surrounding failure: when people are not willing to fail, they won’t take risks. When they don’t take risks, innovation won’t take place.
Supervisors and managers need to take the lead in this regard, firstly through taking the plunge themselves. Encouraging your subordinates to take calculated risks while you yourself remain risk-averse is likely to cause resentment and alienate you from them.
Secondly, consider how you can reward employees who take calculated risks.
Incentivising desirable behaviour is a good way to encourage it. Tata, for example, holds “Dare to Try” awards every year for managers who take the biggest risks at work.
Thirdly, teach your employees to adopt a “hope for the best, plan for the worst” attitude when it comes to risk-taking. According to Margie Warrell, bestselling author of three books on daring to take risks, two reasons why people fear risk-taking are:
By hoping for the best and planning for the worst, we mitigate both causes.
Fundamentally, the process of innovation draws on several specific thinking skills, specifically, creative problem-solving. It combines the need for creativity with critical thinking.
Developing your employees’ divergent thinking (creative thinking), convergent thinking (critical thinking), and lateral thinking (thinking out of the box) can increase their ability to come up with better innovations.
(In fact, here’s an article to help you with that.)
Paired with the willingness and courage to innovate, it can do wonders for your company’s innovation portfolio.