Posted by Jane Irene Kelly on Friday, July 25, 2014 - 09:38
Technology companies need to innovate to stay relevant. But inspiring innovation from your team takes a lot more than issuing a rallying cry: “We need to innovate! Now, let’s get to it!”
Innovation — coming up with a better way of doing something — is a process that often happens organically. New ideas and fresh thinking may bubble up randomly from your team. Maybe an employee is inspired by something she saw while driving to work, or she was daydreaming about. Or perhaps a worker decides to tackle a problem from a different angle, has an “aha moment,” and says, “Hey guys, so what do you think about this …?” More often, though, the seeds of innovation require some nurturing before they can take root and sprout in your organization. The right conditions need to be in place, and any barriers that might stunt growth need to be removed. That’s where managers come in.
Be the model of innovation
Fostering a culture where innovation can thrive, and the status quo is constantly challenged, is critical to business success. But if you don’t try to be an innovative leader, or collaborate, or apply creativity to your own work, how can you expect others around you to do the same? You need to set the standard, and help create an innovation-friendly environment. Here are four strategies:
- Make work/life balance a high priority. Yes, you’ve heard this one before. So, why does it top the list? Because so few businesses follow through on ensuring that work itself doesn’t become a barrier to innovation in their culture. The bottom line: If employees are distracted and stressed by their inability to get things done at the office or elsewhere, and use every spare moment they have to play catch-up, they will have no downtime or energy to even think about innovation.
- Encourage employees to schedule “innovation time.” This advice ties to the point above. Once your employees find more breathing room in their schedule, make sure they fill in some of that newfound space with “innovation time.” You don’t want to (and shouldn’t) force the innovation process, of course. But for it to become ingrained in your culture, it has to become a regular part of the workday for your employees. Leading companies like Facebook and 3M are known for encouraging staff members to devote time specifically to innovation.
- Appreciate all ideas—big, small and off-the-wall. When meeting with your team, always try to incorporate discussion of new ideas. Seek diverse viewpoints and be open-minded about what you get in return. All ideas offered sincerely and constructively are worthy of acknowledgement and at least some discussion. Remember: Unconventional thinking can often lead to new paths to explore and viable solutions. To help employees feel comfortable presenting “out there” ideas, advocate “blue sky thinking” — an even more free-form approach to idea generation than brainstorming (and something Google encourages its employees to do). Sessions like these may not result in any specific innovation, but they can help your employees better organize their thoughts and learn from failed ideas.
- Develop the talent in your organization: Growing a culture of innovation requires that you invest in “growing” your employees through professional development. (It’s also what helps to ensure you retain the talent you need for your organization to execute on innovation.) Support their efforts to pursue continuing professional education and training. Also, provide them with the right tools and technology to develop and share their ideas.
Most important, encourage your employees to stretch their abilities. When they can step out of their comfort zone and take on new challenges, explore new areas of the business, and collaborate with different people, the environment becomes ripe for organic innovation. And ultimately, that’s what you want for your business: Deep-rooted innovation capable of flourishing on its own.