Stimulating innovative ideas from employees can be challenging. Yet, it’s crucial for the growth of many businesses, and it relies on strong leadership.
According to the fifth annual MIT SMR and Deloitte study, 51% of the respondents believe that their leaders think innovation is or should be a core competency of their organizations.
The answer above is from members of companies at the early growth stage.
This percentage increases to an impressive 73% and 91% among companies at the developing and maturing stages, respectively.
How can leaders encourage their teams to consider innovation as one of their top priorities?
In this article, we will go through tips and ideas on how to stimulate innovative ideas from your employees and implement them.
1) Be a Role Model
Actions are more effective than words in inspiring a change of behavior.
If a manager wants to inspire and encourage innovative ideas from employees, they need to set an example.
Share innovation ideas and discuss them with the team. Encourage them to share their comments and suggestions and present their opinions. Create a business environment where employees feel comfortable.
Innovation goes hand in hand with motivation.
Management can keep employees motivated by creating a friendly work environment, acknowledging employees’ achievements and reward system, often providing feedback, and encouraging them to communicate their ideas. Offer them advice, feedback, and resources.
2) Present Concrete Examples
Consider that what you are asking might be seen as something abstract. What exactly is an innovative idea?
Are you looking for something 100% original?
Or is an upgrade of an existing product good enough?
Because innovation can mean different things to different people, it will be helpful to present concrete examples to your employees. It’s not necessary to call a meeting every time. Here’s what to do instead:
- Watched a video about a great idea? – Share it on the company messaging system.
- Found a helpful article online? – Post it on the intranet.
- Was it on print? – Cut it out and pin it to the message board. Or scan it and distribute it online.
Simple actions like the above will help employees understand what executives want. They can also spark new ideas. The Smithsonian Magazine states, “creative ideas evolve from memories and impressions.”
On the other hand, make sure to share examples matching what your team can deliver. Setting the bar too high can discourage them.
3) Make it Official
Talk can be perceived as cheap. When struggling to get innovative ideas from employees, find ways to demonstrate they are relevant and will be taken seriously.
The suggestion is to create an innovation program and add it to the company’s employee handbook. Making it official will help employees see that it’s OK to reserve time to be innovative.
However, bear in mind that some employees can feel pressured and obligated by this. Communication with the team will help clarify that there is no “deadline for innvoation” or restrictions.
And here is a pro tip: communicate the notion that failure is part of the process with the team. Some employees might be afraid of presenting innovation ideas because they are worried about a possible backlash. What if their ideas don’t bring results? Clarify that once their ideas are approved for testing or implementation, there will be no consequences if they don’t work.
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4) Create Time for Innovation
Employees might also be unsure what percentage of their time they can spare for innovation. Coming up with ideas involves daydreaming, research, product testing, brainstorming, benchmarking, and other tasks that might be unrelated to their daily activities. It takes time, and the team could be concerned that someone might think they aren’t doing their job.
The solution for this is scheduling specific time for innovation.
This way, employees will know what hours of their working week they can allocate to this task.
There are a couple of different options that management can implement. One is to be strict, pre-determining the time and day for each team member. The other is giving them general recommendations and letting them freely choose when they will do it.
Because making this decision can be tricky, staff scheduling software can help guide executives through it. These tools can help understand how time is currently used by employees. This information makes it easier to figure out the best way to add innovation time to their schedules.
5) Reward Innovation
Using rewards and recognition programs is instrumental in increasing employee productivity and innovation. For example, using incentives like:
- Sales commission
- Flexible working hours
- Extra vacation days
Think about what would be more compelling to the team. Then, check the budget to see what can be offered.
Even the smallest incentive can make a positive change.