When we think of innovation, we think of big ideas, sharp skills, thinking outside of the box and pursuing unique challenges.
Even more often, we associate these events and habits as acts of great entrepreneurs or expert technologists, and not applicable within a defined position or previously chosen career path.
But by limiting our thinking, we also limit our employees.
Innovation does not necessarily need to happen in a new space or by a person with a particular title. The ability to think outside of the box is always possible, regardless of environment or role.
Great entrepreneur-ship is often stifled, or even discouraged in the workplace when creative freedom comes with rank. When employees feel stuck within the specific responsibilities of their job description, they are hesitant to do more.
With the rise of gig work and “side hustles”, it is clear that employees are not only able to apply a creative twist to professional challenges, but they also desire the chance to do so.
To survive in the changing business landscape, businesses need to retain creative employees, foster and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit within them and create an environment where inventive thinking is promoted at every level.
Where do great entrepreneurs come from?
The idea of being an entrepreneur is appealing – everyone has daydreamed about disrupting the status quo, bringing the next best idea to market and pursuing their self-written path. However, this ideally successful career is quite risky, leading many to a more secure position.
What can be easy to forget is that secure doesn’t need to be boring. Great entrepreneurial thinking is critical for businesses to stay relevant in the ever-changing world of work.
Unfortunately, in many organizations fresh ideas are only proposed by a small fraction of employees: those required to do so via their job description. Although this kind of work is skillful, this small percentage of employees aren’t the only ones with good ideas. So, how do employers get more employees involved?
New ideas don’t have to be grand, entrepreneurial concepts. They could be changes to internal processes, employee experiences and corporate culture – like a fix to the buggy system that employees are regularly aggravated by, or an upgrade to the slow, lagging procedure that stagnates workflow.
Who better to revamp these routines than the employees who do them every day themselves?
Instead of employees going home to complain about their work frustrations or vent their ideas on social media, encourage them to pitch them to their upper management or internal teams. With open communication, one idea could grow from another and a new solution may be found.
Creating the right environment
For employees to recognize their ability to share new ideas with their teams or management, they need to know that doing so is encouraged and supported. Creating this safe working environment is recognized as “psychological safety.”
In psychologically safe workplaces, employees can share thoughts or opinions without the fear of being criticized, ignored or even reprimanded. To make this environment possible, it’s important for employees to understand that failure brings improvement, and that’s okay.
Additionally, this environment will cultivate respect, inclusion and trust. Promoting these ideals as central pillars of workplace culture should naturally create an environment of psychological safety.
This is successfully done when managers and leaders encourage employees to speak up – even if it’s a “bad” idea. A transparent communication style and supportive work environment opens the door to new ideas, challenges and more confident employees.
Making creative thinking a normal practice
Once workplace communication is fluid and employees are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas, employers need to work to make doing so a common practice. Encourage employees to think like intrapreneurs—those who apply great entrepreneurial thinking inside the existing organizations for which they work.
The clearest way to receive ideas and communications from employees is simply by asking them. Employees regularly receive feedback on their performance, both formal and informal, but how often do employers ask for feedback in return?
As part of regular check-ins or one-on-ones, ask employees, “What can we do?” By making it clear that feedback is welcome and wanted, employees will start to share their opinions on the workplace, potentially sparking great ideas.
On a larger scale, these feedback sessions could occur in a team or group setting, brainstorming and openly discussing what needs improvement and how to do so.
Further, feedback could even be incentivized, offering recognition or a monetary reward for any ideas that are successfully adopted by the company.
However you choose to motivate employees, it’s important to start with creating an environment that supports feedback, critique and change. Creativity should be fostered from all employees, not only those that are hired to do so.
Innovation should never be kept from someone because of their job responsibilities and allowing it is doing your business a disservice. You never know where the next big idea will come from, so ask for it.