Does your workplace reflect a culture of innovation?
Successful companies strive for continuous improvement. But do not expect a few people at the top to do all the new thinking. After all, it is generally people closest to the problem — and the customer — who are closest to the best solution.
Encouraging new ideas throughout the organization benefits company performance and helps employees reach their full potential. It also strengthens culture by increasing trust and buy-in.
When employees are empowered, they feel safe to take the calculated risks needed to chase continuous improvement.
Survey company Energage measures innovation by asking employees whether they believe new ideas are encouraged at their company. At Top Workplaces, 87% of employees on average answer positively when asked whether their organization is innovative.
Efforts to encourage innovative thinking in the workplace are most successful when practiced across all levels of the organization: An innovative mindset starts with workplace culture, which starts with leadership. Encourage out-the-box thinking, reminding managers and employees that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future.
Managers should focus on listening for new ideas and innovative suggestions. Think of feedback as an opportunity to learn rather than a source of complaints. Managers are also responsible for “bubbling up” ideas from employees.
Teams and employees should build improvement into company processes. Take time to reflect on successful and frustrating projects to identify opportunities and address recurring issues.
Here’s how organizations can get started on making sure innovation is a part of the workplace culture:
- Invite all employees to share ideas and treat their suggestions as equitably as possible.
- Celebrate the source of successful ideas, and celebrate what people learn from those ideas that are not adopted.
- Make the environment safe for employees to brainstorm and share ideas — good or bad.
- Encourage employees to research what your company can learn from other organizations and industries.
- Create a real-time “open door” channel for generating and capturing new ideas.
- Establish an “innovation committee” to help act on employee ideas.
- Encourage employees and teams to dedicate time to innovation every week.
- Involve people with different perspectives in discussions about improvements.
Beware of some challenges when encouraging innovation:
- Failing to act on new ideas. Encourage employees to collaborate with their peers to improve and iterate on ideas to improve the success rate.
- Not recognizing that ideas can and should come from anywhere and anyone. Innovation should not be limited by focusing on the same voices.
- Employees who do not feel safe offering new ideas. Remember, an innovative mindset needs to be nurtured as part of your workplace culture.
- Leaders who are dismissive of new ideas or only listen to those from certain people. When they shut down feedback, employees are less likely to share their ideas in the future.
Companies will not improve by forever doing the same things the same way. Make sure your organization does not foster a risk-averse culture that is never willing to try new things.
Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is The Washington Post’s partner for Top Workplaces.