How to encourage new ideas and innovations

21 June 2019 -

New ideasBringing out the innovations in your team can be a struggle. Here’s how to do it

Essential learnings:

  • Create autonomy and idea time
  • Test out ideas in low-risk environments
  • Fail fast, learn quickly

New ideas and innovations sets setting successful organisations apart from the competition. With an innovative culture, managers can unlock the potential of their team. Without that culture, employees can become disenfranchised with their day-to-day work, and seek opportunities elsewhere.

In a recent Gallup study of more than 16,500 employees, only 29% of workers strongly agreed that they're expected to be creative or think of new ways to do things at work. Managers should identify opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship where considered change, experimentation and risk can take place. Here are five ways you can encourage new ideas and innovation:

1. Empower employees to make decisions

Provide opportunities for employees to be involved in decision making. Attempt new ways of doing things that can help employees feel that they and their contributions are valued and appreciated. This can be a very powerful way to increase engagement. Autonomy, within set boundaries, gives employees the opportunity to develop their capabilities and show what they can do. Successfully carrying out new responsibilities or completing challenging projects will give team members a sense of achievement and increase their job satisfaction. For more on this, read CMI’s Engaging your team Checklist 121.

2. Set aside time

At the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, or 3M, as it’s known today, they called it Fifteen Percent Time. This was a policy that allowed employees to spend 15% of their work time daydreaming, doodling or experimenting with ideas that didn’t necessarily have to do with their work at the company. As 3M knew, this kind of daydreaming is the crucible of invention and fosters passion for our day-to-day work.

3. Don’t fear failure

Nothing kills creativity faster than the fear of failure, so as much as you should celebrate the success of any innovation, you should also celebrate the failures. It is a fine balance – you don’t want to encourage reckless behaviour – but encourage people to reach and work beyond their comfort zones. Be sure to analyse the ideas that failed. Unpick the thinking behind a particular choice, how it went wrong. What could have been done to either avoid it or produce a different outcome? This helps to remove fears and build a creative culture.

4. Work out inexpensive pilots

Find ways to pilot ideas on a smaller scale so that you can put them to the test. Gain evidence to justify the investment required and draw lessons from the initial phase – that will be of benefit to later, fuller implementations. Departmental applications, telephone surveys of existing customers and small investments can all be used to lay a foundation for innovation while avoiding unnecessary expenditure. For more on this, read CMI’s Managing Creativity Checklist 177.

5. Be an innovative leader

There’s no better way to encourage innovation in your company than to lead by example. Managers should be role models for workplace passion, positive outlook, clear direction and vision, and of course, embracing change. A willingness to challenge the status quo and innovate while also encouraging employees to be creative, innovative and to challenge their own beliefs and those of the organisation – those are the hallmarks of a transformational leader. For more on this, see CMI’s Understanding management and leadership styles Checklist 256.

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