If the new millennium has been anything, it’s been the “age of innovation”. Powered by the new tools of the internet, the pace of change for business and entrepreneurship of the past two decades has been unprecedented. And there is no sign of it slowing down yet. Founders and entrepreneurs who want to remain competitive need to attract top talent, and rely on them for creativity and forward-thinking ideas.
The problem is that the corporate structure isn’t always set up for creativity and innovation on the lower rungs of a company. Many of those workers feel underpowered and unable to share the ideas they might have to improve a company. Worse still, they are so overworked and sidled with tasks that thinking outside the box when it comes to innovation doesn’t even feel like an option. Often, managers and higher ups don’t realize these structural problems impeding innovation, and simply assume their employees aren’t measuring up to expectations.
There is data to back up this disconnect between hirers and employees. A recent study conducted by the University of Phoenix found that “just one in 10 hiring managers say their employees excel at innovation, and one-third of hiring managers report their employees lack key traits like ‘creativity and forward-thinking.’” In an even more disappointing finding, the study also found that only 10 percent of hiring managers feel that their employees excel at innovation.
If you want your company to reach its full potential, there is no question that you need each and every one of your employees—from the interns to the executives—to be operating at their full potential as well. While it can often feel overwhelming to change corporate status quo and hierarchy to achieve such change, that isn’t necessarily what you need to do. It takes a top-down modeling of behavior—as well as an inclusive, incentivizing and non-threatening company culture—to garner the ideas and innovation you want from the people on your payroll.
Here are some ideas for how to inspire innovation:
Be realistic: If you give your lower-level employees a workload that’s not suitable for a single person, don’t expect them to come up with great ideas. Consider outsourcing some of your more banal operations to an outside company or contractor so that your employees with a more intimate knowledge of your company’s ethos have a little more breathing space to come up with ideas. Even better, give them additional tools and inspiration to do so, with things like workshops, speakers, simulations, or off-site retreats that might spark genius.
Keep lines of communication open: While it may be unrealistic to expect a low-level staffer to speak up or go against the grain in a board meeting, there are other ways you can encourage transparency and accountability throughout the company. Tell your employees they are always welcome to email the higher ups with ideas or concerns about how things are going, and that they can do so anonymously or without recourse. Or start a monthly “ideas” meeting, where the sole purpose is to give employees permission to point out areas where the company might consider doing things differently. Remember, your lower level employees understand your company in ways you might not, so don’t waste their input by silencing them.
Provide incentives: In a corporate culture, sometimes a simple incentive works best. Offer recognition in your company for employees who go out of their way to suggest good ideas and new ways of doing things. If you want your employees to think outside their job description, you need to give them a reason to do so. Sometimes simple recognition on a monthly basis—and some kind of reward, like a modest pay bonus—is the perfect way to draw that out of your employees.
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