“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” - Theodore Levitt.
In your workplace, the ultimate goal is to achieve a level of full engagement from each and every employee, if all your workers are engaged and innovating, your business will no doubt flourish. However, within every workplace there is likely to be both innovators and objectors. Whilst your innovators are fully engaged and working actively in favour of your company’s success, an objector is an inhibitor to the innovation process. Objectors are not necessarily disengaged, but they need specific attention to help eliminate the potential obstructions they present to bringing innovation into your company.
How to spot your innovators
Innovation is more about psychology than intellect, it is an evolved form of creativity and is essentially innate to every employee; it just requires tuning in to the right frequency. The wrong frequency involves a forced creativity processes, which inevitably leads to roadblocks before you’ve even started moving.
So, you know you want each of your employees to be an innovator, not an objector who will unwittingly block the flow of ideas and is more likely to be an unmotivated staff member. But how do you begin this conversion process?
The conversion process
Do you know why the creative process is so important? What is it about creative ventures that make us so nervous? Non-creative processes are never subject to the road-block progressions that haunt your would-be innovators. This fear of failure in creative practice is what maintains objectors; such fear may even turn innovators into objectors. To cultivate an environment of innovation, create a psychologically safe environment for your employees. In a psychologically safe environment, your employees know that if they make a genuine mistake they will not be thought of negatively. This environment should be a place where they are not afraid to ask for help or support and should open up the workplace to innovative idea sharing. This environment isn’t necessarily a place where everybody is “best friends”; it’s more along the lines of an attitude of collective thinking as opposed to the individual approach.
Many employees are afraid to speak up creatively in the workplace because they are anxious about the failure aspect involved in proposing an idea that isn’t received well, it is not necessarily an indicator of how engaged the employee is with their work, it is more a concern with facing direct criticism from peers and colleagues which prevents their involvement.
How do you bring out the innate innovator in each of your employees?
Once the right psychological environment is in place, what is the process to take you from creativity to innovation? Reward and recognition for the proposal of ideas and creative thinking will take you to the next step; which is putting ideas to action.
Strategically plan a recognition program (not just from the top downwards) but across the board, allowing other employees to recognise what they feel to be good work. This means first establishing what good work is, what it looks and sounds like, whether this is employing a BHAG, a set of internal goals or company values. This then needs to be measured consistently and regularly, reporting back to staff about the progress. Let your employees see a direct trail of action from suggestion to fulfilment. Try the steps below to set this plan in place:
1. Mix it up
Develop teams responsible for different areas or objectives, if possible mix employees from different backgrounds (both personally and professionally). The variety of outlooks will generate a variety of ideas as diversity in the workplace is complimentary to innovation. Ask each group to come up with an idea that they believe would make the business better, establish some guidelines and a set amount of time in which to confer and develop their idea. (This way it doesn’t turn into a waste of valuable work time.)
2. Everyone’s included
Creating teams also works to include every single employee in the creative process and will encourage the concept of each individual employee being valuable to the company’s success. Each of your employees (if they are engaged) will have a worthwhile input. This will pave the way for the effective use of a reward program, e.g. rewarding with something that is of personal value to the employee, not a generic gift.
Use the reward and recognition program to reward the best ideas, after making sure you consider each one fairly and equally by providing positively orientated feedback. Allow input from the employees themselves also.
Once this system is in place, utilise it, whether the ideas you implement are to do with staff benefits or customer relationship management, turning your employees ideas into reality and rewarding the effort is also known as innovation.