The world’s top performing organizations are dedicated to fueling innovation among employees. Unfortunately, innovation is notoriously difficult for organizations to foster and encourage. Leaders can’t wait around for their employees to create and implement fresh ideas. They also can’t expect innovation to sprout up after a single inspiring speech at a company meeting. Leaders must work to create an environment that consistently fosters innovation.
In my new book, The Leadership Equation, I talk about how building trust and generating spark (or innovation) are the two most important things a leader can do. Focus on implementing the following techniques to light the spark of innovation in your employees:
Create a big picture
Provide employees with a clear, “big picture” vision of success to keep in mind. Are you trying to capture a particular market segment? Do you need to streamline costs? Are you trying to improve teacher quality? This will help align their ideas with the organization’s needs.
Set aside time
Make sure your employees have dedicated time to think of new ideas. 3M accomplishes this with its “15 percent rule,” which allows employees to spend 15 percent of their time exploring and experimenting. The practice led employees to create products such as ScotchGard® and Thinsulate®.
Form small teams
Create loosely structured teams of employees who can support each other and exchange ideas and feedback during the process of innovation. Incentivize them to learn from each other.
Make it fun
Spontaneity and creativity go hand in hand. Take the team to a local brewery or a ballgame. Try a night of making ceramics. Arrange a scavenger hunt.
Micromanagement is one of the quickest ways to smother a spark of innovation. Give employees space and freedom to try out new things without the burden of constant scrutiny.
Redefine failure: Some of the best innovations emerge from failed ideas. When an idea isn’t quite right, reframe it as a learning opportunity or stepping-stone, rather than as a failure.
Drive fear out
Fear stifles innovation. Make sure managers have the emotional intelligence to respond appropriately when ideas don’t pan out. Trust goes hand in hand with innovation. If people are putting their hearts into their work, they need to be rewarded regardless of the outcome.
Encouraging innovation isn’t a one-time strategy. Reinforce and refine these techniques to sustain innovation in your organization.