Innovation is one of the most important elements of sustained success for any company. While hierarchy, technology, and process all play their part in promoting exploration and discovery, one study found that 94% of senior executives believe people and corporate culture are ultimately the key drivers of innovation.
Clearly, leadership plays a crucial role in encouraging an innovative atmosphere at the office. With that in mind, how can you promote innovation within your company? Here are 4 key elements that can be game-changers for your business.
1. Be the innovator you want others to be.
Most companies today will sing the praises of innovation. The question is, how many are actually practicing what they preach? If your stance on innovation is nothing more than empty talk, your employees will quickly discern it, and keep their ideas to themselves.
It’s absolutely essential that you lead by example with regard to innovative practice. There are several ways you can demonstrate your investment in a culture of inquiry and discovery, such as:
- Include innovation as part of your team's formal agenda. At team meetings and strategy sessions, dedicate some time exclusively to discussion of “outside the box” ideas. Put your own ideas forward, but don’t present them as the final answer. Encourage feedback from your team.
- Contextualize innovation. In team meetings, strategy sessions, and throughout the day, emphasize the importance of innovation according to context. Mention the business impact that an innovative solution could have, and how valuable it would be to the organization.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions without knowing the answers. A key part of innovation is the practice of asking questions — even when the answers are not readily apparent. A manager who wants to promote innovation within the team shouldn’t be afraid to ask relevant questions in public without knowing how to resolve them. The eventual outcome may very well be a “crowd-sourced solution” that management never could have arrived at on their own.
2. Actively encourage innovation from your team.
Being visibly and demonstrably open to new ideas is only the first step in fostering a culture of innovation. In order to take your pro-innovation initiative to the next level, you must actively seek feedback from your employees — and do so on a continual basis. For instance:
- Are you just setting aside time on your agenda for team members to come forward with their ideas? Or are you asking each individual for their input?
- Do you show appreciation for each idea presented, whether or not it’s feasible to implement? Do you sincerely commend the team member for offering the idea?
- Do you solicit feedback from your employees on a regular basis, and not just at certain points throughout the year?
- Do you let your employees know how much the organization depends on them and their contributions (including their ideas)?
It’s important to remember that even some bad ideas can be refined into good ideas — but no idea at all can’t be refined into anything. Therefore, make sure that you constantly encourage new ideas from your team, and show appreciation when they present them to you.
3. Design and deploy an “innovation network.”
Bringing innovative people together is a surefire way to get their “creative juices” flowing. One practical step that you can take in this regard is to develop a cross-departmental “network of innovators,” and then implement that network within appropriate boundaries.
Granted, you’ll need to perform some skill mapping ahead of time, since these networks are most successful when they feature a mix of skills, attitudes, and personalities. For instance, experience shows that there are four primary archetypes that you should include in your network:
- Idea generators. These individuals are highly creative, and can help others to explore possibilities that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
- Researchers. Team members with this skill set typically generate ideas from patterns in relevant data, and their ideas are firmly grounded in reality.
- Experts. These are your specialists; employees who excel in a particular field, and love to put their expertise to use.
- Producers. Finally, producers help coordinate the activities of the network, forge new connections with other employees, and are ready to take action once a plan has been developed.
While there is no exact science behind the creation of an innovation network, you can combine employee data with emotional intelligence to determine which team members should be included in the initiative, and where they fit in. The end result will likely be an “innovation engine” for your company.
4. Incentivize innovation.
Finally, leverage rewards and recognition to jump-start your culture of innovation, and achieve buy-in from all of your employees. On the one hand, even the most dedicated employee needs to feel that their hard work has been acknowledged and appreciated by management; on the other hand, adding financial perks to the equation can appeal to your team’s more mercenary instincts.
Of course, innovation doesn’t always have to be about defining new business objectives. It may be reactive, in the sense of giving your employees the freedom to achieve current goals in innovative ways. For that reason, set targets and challenges for your team, and attach an appropriate reward to those that successfully meet those benchmarks.
In addition, think of ways to incentivize behavioral changes — that is, changes that promote innovation. For instance, attach a reward/recognition component to employees that offer 4 possible solutions to a current business bottleneck, but require one of those solutions to be from an external source. That will help to counteract the “not invented here” syndrome so common in corporate settings.
If you implement these trending suggestions in order to drive innovation in your company, you’ll no doubt see a positive impact on your organization’s culture, your team’s collaborative efforts, and ultimately on your business’ bottom line. If you’d like to explore other ways to enhance your leadership skills, read our other helpful blog posts here.
Platinum Group is a full service human capital management (HCM) resource that allows businesses to manage their payroll and benefits compliance, track time and attendance, and conduct other human resources functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and eliminates redundancies. This is made possible by means of our platform, iSolved. For more information about Platinum Group, or to schedule a demo of iSolved, please visit our website.