How to create a culture of innovation in the workplace
On average, 35% of company revenues are generated from products that didn’t exist 5 years ago. So with innovation such a crucial part of a business’ overall success, are you doing enough to foster a positive and creative employee culture?
The benefits of doing so are massive. Companies with a “highly aligned” employee and product culture have 30% higher enterprise value growth and 17% higher profit growth. In other words, if a company talks a lot about being innovative, and actually gives employees ways of being innovative, it’s setting itself up for greater success.
And if you can create a sense of purpose among your employees, and give them ownership over your products, the results can be significant. In the product world, that might mean demonstrating a clear link between your products and improving your customers’ lives.
Employees who work for companies with a strong sense of purpose ingrained into their culture are more confident in their company’s ability to:
- deliver top quality products and service
- focus on long-term sustainable growth
- meet industry disruptions
The bad news is that most companies don’t do this. In fact, half of employees say their company’s culture doesn’t support their innovation strategy.
Here’s a few ways to create a workplace culture that fosters innovation:
1. Make sure you have ways to gather ideas
If you want your employees’ great ideas, you need to give them a way to share them. In years past, this meant a suggestion box at the office entrance. But a digital version allows you to gather feedback quicker and in ways that suit your employees, like through mobile surveys. With the right survey platform, you can also apply powerful analytical tools to find common themes and trends within the data, even unstructured data such as open text responses.
2. Identify your creatives and support them
Creative people in your organization need people to recognize their ideas and implement them. The key is understanding that these people might not be your doers – so expecting them to develop, test and launch a product is unreasonable. Put processes in place to gather their great ideas and run with them. At the same time, make sure you’re not equating confidence with creativity – tap into every area of your business for great ideas, and make sure those with quieter voices are also heard.
3. Show the outcome of an employee’s great idea
Give updates on how your company is putting employees’ ideas into action, and showcase examples of great ideas turned into profitable products. Employees will become discouraged if their ideas disappear into a black hole and they see no output from their suggestions.
4. Be careful when adapting other people’s ideas
Your product vision might be very single-minded; perhaps it’s the brainchild of senior leaders. So when someone suggests an idea, it might be radically changed to fit this vision – but fundamentally changing someone’s idea can be discouraging, and gives the suggester a sense their idea wasn’t very good in the first place.
5. Eliminate the fear of failure
A company stops its people being creative when it denies failings, or makes it a source of shame for employees. It’s said it takes 3,000 ideas to find one commercially successful product. Which is to say you need people providing those 2,999 ones that never go anywhere. You can go as far as celebrating failures that helped the company learn, or just encourage managers to be open about their own mistakes.
6. Make innovation a part of recruitment and onboarding
At the recruitment stage, work with HR to make creative thinking an important part of candidate assessment. From there, make sure your onboarding process focuses on sharing your company’s product vision, encouraging innovation, and explaining how employees can contribute to product development.
7. Reward innovation
There’s many ways to reward your employees, and you should survey your employees on what they’d like most. You could offer simple financial rewards, or something more experiential like sending your top five innovators on an all expenses paid holiday, as Westin Hotels does every quarter.
8. Create a sense of ownership among employees
Another way of encouraging innovation is to make employees feel as though they own the final product. At a basic level, this might mean keeping your product people connected to how their work is actually impacting customers’ lives. On the more radical side of things, you could take a leaf from Haier’s book and name the final products after the employee that came up with the idea.
9. Create memorable product experiences
Switching your focus from desktop to mobile? That’s what Zipcar did recently – and to mark the change in vision, they got their employees to destroy desktop computers with sledgehammers. You don’t need anything to be quite so destructive though – you could settle for product demos with real customers, or hackathons where your team is encouraged to innovate at pace.
10. Gamify the creative process
Gamification is a growing trend within many of the world’s leading companies. HR teams use it to monitor employee engagement, and CX teams use it to keep customer panels engaged. For a product team, gamifying innovation means making the idea generation process a competition, where people can win recognition for great ideas.
The UK Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) do just this. They offer employees a platform to submit ideas and then gain points for developing the concept, or getting buy-in from other employees.
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