Factors that breed innovation

Factors that breed innovation

Isn’t it refreshing when a company not only professes to value innovative employees, but has instigated practices that demonstrate that they actually do?

Alastair Mant pointed out years ago in his book Intelligent Leadership that workplace cultures of innovation are less common than we would think. However, thanks in part to the proliferation of dotcoms and a newer breed of business and communications replacing old ways of doing things with the new, innovation is becoming hip – which is long overdue.

This presents a wonderful opportunity for Gen Ys and Gen Zs starting out as well as those who’ve cut their teeth in various parts of the business over the decades and who are dying to show they have more to offer.

Managers and business owners must create the culture for innovation

Tell your team you are dedicated to the pursuit of the bold, the interesting and you want a culture of “have a go”. Make the time to sit down with people and invite them to come up with suggestions for improving products and processes. Some ideas may not fly, but have your antennas open, listen to all, even the half-baked suggestions, or the ones you’ve tried before, and give credit publicly and generously.

Promote regular OPEN discussion groups

Mix up your teams for discussion – cross-functional teams create a breath of fresh air. Get them brainstorming. Make sure someone keeps notes and rotate this responsibility as it can be hard to take minutes and contribute as well. Avoid petty jealousies and ice bucket dumps – negativity should be rerouted to iron out the kinks and dead ends in an idea. Pointing out the likely glitches adds value because it keeps practices from becoming shallow and complacent. Set that Moaning Minnie or Cynical Sam the task of combing the ideas for likely problems in the rollout, and remind them not to make it personal.

Talk about mistakes

Talk about your own mistakes and free your staff to do the same – without blame or defensiveness. There is much to be gleaned from seeming failure. Sometimes a good idea is simply premature, or touted in the wrong context. Again, throw things open for discussion, and be sure to reward and recognise the creatives as well as those whose efforts are better expended in crafting concepts into reality and implementing, or maintaining quality.

Focus on continuous improvement

Streamline cumbersome ways of doing things. You might find deft new approaches which make such good sense you’ll wonder why you previously held back. Equally, cheerfully dust off older ideas in the company files – some things are worth a second look. The timing may not have been right.

Keep track of ideas and their progress.

Best practice and innovation champions

Appoint staff (if you haven’t time yourself) to monitor best practice and innovation in your industry, both locally and internationally. Get them to think laterally – how might they improve on these best practices? What’s missing? What needs to be done? Is it feasible? What might your company already possess in its goodie bag that other companies lack? Encourage staff to use social media to this end (within reason, company policy and ensuring protection of company intellectual property).

Bring in interesting guest speakers and stimulating events

Create a fun and informative office lunch – you supply the sandwiches and great coffee. Invite some of your friendly competitors and their teams to a big company do/event, and see what they bring. Collaboration is hip, but more importantly – when the trends have moved on – they create a brilliant cluster effect. Silicon Valley is but one of these examples. So was (and is) Hollywood.

If you remain clear and consistent about company goals without insisting on repetition of tasks and procedures for the sake of it, you might find productivity and staff morale go through the roof. Then your business becomes a magnet attracting excellent talent – that breeds more innovation.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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