By Rick Sliter
Being ahead of the trends is the goal of every successful business. Knowing what is coming next in your industry, or even better, introducing the next great thing, can help keep your business on top and your company thriving. However, accomplishing this is easier said than done. When looking at companies that are industry leaders, one quality stands out repeatedly is, innovation. Being innovative in our products, services, and business practices allows us to face and answer challenges that both our customers and our employees encounter. When we are innovative, we grow.
So how can you encourage innovation in your workplace? Here are some tips for promoting innovation.
Like many successful endeavors in the workplace, it starts with leadership. Leaders in your company must show that they value and encourage innovation by doing simple things like encouraging their employees to take risks, experiment, ask questions, and reflect on and synthesis work in progress. Not only do leaders need to encourage these practices, they need to demonstrate these things in their own daily work habits. When employees see that management asks questions, takes time to explore new ideas, and opens their mind to change, they are more likely to feel comfortable doing these things themselves.
Great ideas can come from anyone at any moment. As a leader, express that philosophy to your employees, but focus that energy and drive by being on purpose. Take time to define and discuss your company’s overall goals and purpose to help drive innovative efforts in that direction. When done carefully this can help keep guide innovation in a purposeful manner, without stifling the flow of creative ideas.
The next step in encouraging innovation is to create a company culture that values innovation. To do this successfully, management needs to be more focused on outcomes than on procedures. For example, if an employee feels that established procedures are of the utmost importance and if they stray from those procedures (regardless of outcome), they will have to account for their choices. Resulting in them being less likely to take a risk and try something new. People who regularly perform tasks often have great insight to new procedures or techniques that would increase proficiency and/or quality, but rarely feel like they have the right to experiment.
Try to create a culture within your company that shows you value new ideas that help reach established outcomes, not that you only value the ability to follow those procedures. Take time to ask employees if they have any ideas, give them permission to try those ideas, be excited by the experiment, and celebrate the outcome of the experiment even if it was not successful. Learn together and show your employees that you trust their instincts deeply and are willing to let them fail (as we often do) on their path to success. Hopefully, they will return that sense of trust by believing that you will stand behind them and understand that not every try hits the mark the first time.
Experimentation and Mistakes
If you have not figured this out from the first two stages, the biggest part of being a leader in a company that has a culture of innovation is being able to encourage experimentation and tolerate mistakes (even expensive ones). Ouch!
Showing your employees that you truly can handle mistakes, big and little, helps to encourage them to try new ideas. If your employees see that you do not view unsuccessful experiments as a growing pain, they are likely to become fearful of trying anything innovated or outside the box. This does not mean you just let people loose and eat the cost of major mistakes left and right, but it does mean that you encourage people to test things out and when things look good after initial testing, you give them the green light to take the next step. Finally, that if after taking necessary precautions along the way, the new idea fails; you will share in the responsibility of that failure, and together find a way to improve on the idea moving forward.
Innovation that Thrives
When these three pieces come together, the result is a company that thrives on the energy and spirit of innovation. Being able to face challenges with new and unexpected solutions as well as introducing new ideas to your industry is the mark of a company that is set up for long-term success and growth.