Innovation is the fuel that helps businesses go forward. It’s what helps them adapt to unforeseen challenges, stay relevant, and come up with solutions that not even customers might have known they wanted. According to a report from McKinsey, 80% of executives feel that their industry will be disrupted in the near future and that innovation plays a key role in driving growth. For many entrepreneurs, innovation is what makes the difference between a business that manages to stay relevant and one that stays stuck in the old ways.
The examples are too many to count, and they don’t just include small businesses. The old saying “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” applies perfectly here. Kodak, a company that was once worth over $31 billion and ranked as one of the most valuable brands in the world, filed for bankruptcy because it refused to embrace digital photography, even though it was actually one of its engineers, Steve Sasson, who invented the digital camera. Nokia, which created the first cellular network in the world and is known to this day for its sturdy phones, lost its supremacy because it refused to improve user experience on their devices. Blockbuster, the company that survived the transition from VHS to DVD, went extinct because they didn’t know how to adapt to the streaming model.
So, how can you make sure this doesn’t happen to your organization? By nurturing innovation across every layer. Humans have an innate need to invent things that make life easier. You just have to know how to awaken that innovative spirit that hides in each and every one of your employees.
Encourage everyone to innovate, not just management.
Brilliant ideas can come from all business departments, not just management. It would be wrong to assume that executives are the only ones who can improve operations and that an average factory worker can’t contribute anything. At an organizational level, innovation has to be inclusive; everyone should have a voice and feel encouraged to share their ideas without feeling judged or looked down on. Sometimes, executives can be so focused on the big picture that they might not see issues that affect productivity. For example, a warehouse employee may have a brilliant way of streamlining order fulfillment so that there are fewer delays. Or, executives may simply need someone who has a fresh perspective on things.
Make time for workshops and brainstorming sessions.
Busy employees may sound good for business, but they’re not necessarily productive employees or innovative employees. Someone who works for 40 hours a week on repetitive tasks or is too busy to even have lunch may be too exhausted, unmotivated, or worn out to come up with new, innovative ideas. From time to time, you need to put on hold “the grind” and allow your team time to slow down and train their innovative spirit in a different setting. For example, you can organize brainstorming sessions and workshops, or you can attend industry conferences. If you have brainstorming sessions at work, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Appoint a facilitator so that the session follows a certain structure.
- Don’t force people to participate or speak in turns because this adds social pressure.
- Generate ideas, don’t criticize them.
- Don’t force employees to work harder to compensate for the time spent during the session.
- Plan the session in the morning or afternoon, not at the end of the workday, because that’s when people are the most tired and distracted.
Follow up on innovative ideas.
If you want to foster innovation within your organization, it’s not enough to hear people out, take notes, and thank them for the idea. You also have to act on those ideas because, at the end of the day, this is tangible proof that you actually care. If someone’s idea isn’t feasible, explain to them why not. Give them feedback and tell them if what they suggested worked. They might be a bit disappointed that it didn’t go as planned, but they’ll also value your feedback and think of other solutions. However, if they come to you with ideas and never hear any follow-up, they’ll feel even more disappointed. Doing this repeatedly is one of the surefire ways to demotivate employees and make them feel that what they think doesn’t matter.
Hire a motivational speaker
Do you want to help your employees improve and innovate, but you don’t know exactly how to do that? That’s actually a common problem, especially in large organizations, where it’s physically impossible to talk to each individual employee separately and tell them that you believe in them. Or maybe you don’t have a way with words, which is completely alright. In this case, you can hire a motivational speaker who can spark energy and inspiration in your employees and encourage them to pursue new ideas instead of applying the same way of thinking every day. A good motivational speaker doesn’t churn out quotes and self-help mantras. On the contrary, they set the tone of the keynote depending on the goals you want to achieve, telling stories and giving examples that will refresh your employees’ outlook and boost their drive. At the end of a good motivational speech, employees will feel uplifted, confident, empowered, and curious to try new ideas.
Put them in charge of personal projects.
Employees who are given credit for an idea and are offered the opportunity to pursue it are more likely to feel motivated and follow through. Google is quite famous for doing this. In addition to working on company projects, the company allowed its employees to have 20% time for innovation and work on personal projects. Known as the 20% rule, this is what made projects like Gmail and Google AdSense possible and what helped Google rise to power between 2004 and 2012. We don’t know for sure if Google still uses this approach, and many engineers have voiced their concerns that they have to get approval from managers before starting personal projects, but, even so, this innovation model remains valid, and it’s a great way to drive growth.