By: Alicia Lawrence
You love your employees, and, obviously, you think they do awesome work, or else you probably wouldn’t have hired them. Yet, do you ever find yourself wishing they could become a little bit more innovative? After all, the companies that are thriving in today’s competitive marketplace are also some of the most creative.
If you want to create a thriving culture and inspire your employees to be more innovative themselves, the good news is there’s a lot you can do. Some excellent tried and true strategies include:
- Rethink your idea of CEOs“People look for meaning in their work. People want to know what’s happening in their environment. People want to have some ability to shape that environment.” –Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of Google’s People Operations.
If someone at your company has a brilliant idea, let them run with it. Giving people positions of power can be extremely effective in driving a company forward. Let them “own the project” making them solely responsible for the results.
- Fun and work don’t have to be separate entitiesIf you’ve become one of those jaded people who don’t think work could ever be any more fun than getting a root canal, think again. When you incorporate fun into the workday, you create an environment where creativity and innovation can flourish. Hold themed dress up days, such as super hero day where employees come to work dressed up as their favorite super heroes, decade day where they dress to match their favorite decade or pajama day – because who doesn’t love an excuse to wear pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers to work. If you work at a company where you can’t hold themed dress up days, at least do something fun on a routine basis. Office Olympics, anyone?
- Don’t be afraid to be weirdIn your office environment, a little weirdness can go a long way, especially when it comes to what your employees can accomplish. Eric Ryan, founder of Method, the popular soap company, has been known to blast songs like “Eye of the Tiger” from the elevator, show up for work dressed like a chipmunk and hold random intra-office dance parties a la flash mob style. According to Ryan, doing these things reminds employees they’re working at a special place.
- Express appreciation and handwritten thanks“Gratitude is a non-monetary way to support those non-monetary motivations.” – Jeremy Smith
Want to know a really great way to motivate your employees to be more innovative? Thank them for the work they’re already doing. A retired four star general in the United States Army, Stanley McChrystal, was stationed in Afghanistan where he served as the commander of over 150,000 subordinates. With that many people beneath him, it would have been easy for McChrystal to remain distant, but instead he sent out over 2,000 notes thanking his troops every year. People were so touched by his thank you notes that they often wrote him thank you notes back.
- You don’t always lose if you snoozeAs crazy as it might sound, napping can be a fantastic way to get your employees motivated. Well-rested people think more clearly and, consequentially, show more creativity and innovation. Several companies have already bought into this idea, with many creating designated “nap rooms” within offices so employees can take a quick time-out to catch some zzz’s.
- Establish mentorships for allMentorship programs shouldn’t be just for the new people; everyone at your company can benefit from the experience of having a mentor. When they’re part of a mentorship program, employees are able to form valuable connections with the other people in the office, and they’re also challenged to think beyond the typical roles they fill. Remember, age shouldn’t be a determining factor when it comes to who mentors who: Andrew Graff serves as the CEO of a company that manages brand strategy, and he’s mentored by technology guru Eric Leist, who’s only 22 years old.
- Provide feedbackA lot of effort and time goes into coming up with a new idea, so it’s crucial for employees to receive feedback in order to know that they’re valued. If you’re asking your employees for innovative ideas, you should also have a feedback system in place in terms of a person who’s tasked with evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the idea. You could also ask a larger audience for feedback by crowd sourcing – setting up a system where viewers can vote on ideas and make comments. You could even have a live brainstorming session. Whatever approach you take, it’s crucial to come up with a way to give employees feedback on their ideas if you want these innovative ideas to keep popping up.
- Encourage an environment of collaborationThe best ideas come from collaboration. One person might get the ball rolling with a great idea, but others can expand upon that great idea by filling in all the necessary details. Group your employees into teams, and offer a prize to the team that comes up with the best idea.An important caveat of this is that while rewarding the best idea with a prize, it’s also important to acknowledge everyone involved. This keeps the focus on teamwork and cooperation rather than competition.
- Make sure you’re on the same page with your employeesSometimes, top-level executives hear the word “innovation” and associate it with outcomes five or even ten years into the future. Employees, on the other hand, might think innovation is referring to short term, more immediate improvements. This can result in an employee suggesting a great idea that is turned down because it isn’t relevant to the big picture. Make sure you’re on the same page with your employees, and be sure to specify the timeframe you have in mind when you’re asking for ideas.
- Celebrate the mistakes and failuresCriticizing employees when their ideas don’t work is a surefire way to stifle innovation and creativity. A good employer should recognize mistakes are an essential part of how we learn and grow, and they will celebrate mistakes, reminding employees they are just one step closer to success.
Motivating employees to become more innovative isn’t just some business idea you should consider trying. It’s something you definitely need to do. The future success of your employees — and your business — depends on it.