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Four Key Tips you Can Use To Drive Employee Innovation

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Employee innovation can be highly beneficial for improving the success of a company, so many companies have introduced initiatives to encourage innovation in the workplace. For example, Atlassian gives employees four days a year to spend time on any creative project they choose. Adobe’s Kickstart initiative gives employees two-day innovation workshops and a $1,000 credit card to build prototypes. LinkedIn and Whirlpool also have open processes for employees to generate ideas and test them out.

Businesses clearly value innovation and have their own ways of approaching it, but what’s the best way to promote innovation in your employees? Innovation doesn’t just have to be the responsibility of senior management or a select group of people. If you take the right approach, you can draw on everyone in your organization for innovative ideas. When your business becomes innovative, it could deliver better products and services, and its way of doing business could be transformed for the better.

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1. Reward employees for employee innovation ideas

Set up a system for incentivizing and rewarding employees for any innovation that generates revenue. For example, employees can share in a percentage of sales or get a percentage-based bonus. A novel way to further encourage employee innovation is to make these figures public so everyone in the organization knows how much these team members have been rewarded. Some companies, like Westin Hotels, give gifts of paid vacations to employees who come up with the best ideas.

Have a clear process for assessing new ideas so your employees’ inputs aren’t lost. This not only enables you to identify whose contributions led to what outcomes; it also communicates that your business values new ideas. By the same token, avoid punishing failure. First attempts rarely succeed, so if you want to encourage a culture of innovation, don’t penalize employees for ideas that don’t work out. Your employees won’t be motivated to take reasonable risks and think outside the box if they’re punished for their mistakes.

2. Offer support and resources

Assist your employees by giving them the right tools and skills to innovate. Whether it’s software tools or a new training course, the right resources and training can help your employees devise and test out new ideas - from workflow improvements to product and service innovations - more easily. Ask your employees what they think they could benefit from in terms of training, tools, and resources, and provide what you can.

Support in the form of coaching for performance management could also encourage innovation in your employees. Effective coaching could empower employees, helping them achieve self-belief in their ability to come up with creative ideas, and it could guide employees on broadening their perspective to support innovative thinking.

Other ways to inspire innovation include holding innovation tournaments where everyone in the company submits ideas for the business. Showcase the best ideas and give employees time and resources to bring these ideas into reality.

3. Give employees time to work on side projects

Free time could be a key resource for employee innovation, so why not give employees  free time sessions where they can work on anything they choose? For example, you could give everyone an afternoon off once a month to let them work on anything they like. 3M had a 15% time policy where employees were given 15% of their paid work time to daydream, doodle, or experiment with any ideas they liked.

Once an employee has an idea, encourage them to make a pitch to the relevant manager who can give them the approval and resources to test it out. It’s important to support these ideas by giving employees the opportunity to try their ideas in practice. These side project sessions, when managed right, won’t be a drain on time and resources but a way to cultivate what’s known as intrapreneurship - and all its associated innovation benefits - in your business.

4. Be open to all ideas

When it comes to getting the whole organization to innovate, put aside job titles and encourage everyone to share their ideas. At meetings, be open to hearing from everyone and let employees know there are no silly ideas when it comes to innovation.

Sometimes getting away from the workplace environment can inspire people to see things from a fresh perspective, so why not regularly switch up the scenery? Creative retreats are another way to get employees thinking experimentally. NBCUniversal and other companies give their senior leaders paid retreats to exercise their creative thinking.

Finally, providing additional channels for idea suggestions and feedback could also encourage a culture of sharing. Set up meetings dedicated to brainstorming ideas or allocate the last 10 minutes of every meeting to “what if” ideas. Set up online forums for idea sharing and provide anonymous idea boxes, both on your intranet and in a physical location on your premises.

Employee innovation drives organisational success

Implementing a culture of innovation in your organization could keep your business dynamic and aligned with changing customer demand, best practice in your industry, and other environmental conditions. See innovation as a powerful force that could accelerate your business competitiveness, and take aggressive steps to encourage everyone to come up with creative ideas.

Higher levels of innovation could enhance staff satisfaction, employee engagement, and retention, saving your business on turnover costs. Remember, your company’s next great leap forward could emerge from one staff member’s idea, so start now to encourage, capture, and foster all your team’s insights, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

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