Innovation is so essential to organizational success, it goes without saying. But I said it, because although we hear so much about innovation and how important it is, we often fall into the trap of giving it little more than lip service.
In this series of blog posts about employee motivation, I conclude with innovation, saving the most important for last. That’s because innovation may be the greatest motivator for employees. It is also critical for your organization to create competitive advantage.
Humans are creative animals, and few activities satisfy us more than solving problems, coming up with better ways of doing things, or expressing ourselves creatively. If we don’t find creative expression at work, we garden, dance, decorate, take part in any number of hobbies or in clubs and volunteer organizations that draw on our natural desire to make a better world.
When allowed to and encouraged to innovate at work, employees will bring extra energy and loads of discretionary effort to their work and rise to a higher level of motivation. When that happens, everybody wins!
Below are four ways to encourage innovation at work. Before taking any of these steps, make sure you know how each of your employees feel about innovation, what they think it is, and how they prefer to innovate. In other words, tap into your Leadership Intimacy.
Take up the cause of innovation by encouraging your employees to find better ways to do their jobs. There’s no idea like your own idea. And no one enjoys doing anything better than doing it their way. So let your employees experiment, learn, and grow.
Even if their new way turns out to be only equal to or only incrementally better than the old way, you can be sure they will execute it with greater enthusiasm. Even if they fail and find their way back to the original way, they will work with more conviction.
With few exceptions, the best ideas and the highest levels of innovation come from groups, rather than from lone inventors. The best way to begin encouraging collaboration is by example. Involve more people in more decision making. Ask for ideas, opinions, and advice. Then show your appreciation for the help you receive. Set up space and provide tools that encourage and aid group work, brainstorming, and idea sharing.
Nothing discourages innovation like a long list of undone ideas left moldering in a to-do file. This happens all too often, because when busy executives encounter new ideas, the temptation is to say, “Sure, some day.” But the proud parent of a new idea is always thinking, “Now!”
If nothing else, simply don’t get in the way of innovation. Or put more bluntly, get out of the way!
I’m not talking about bonuses for ideas that bomb. But I do recommend acknowledging the innovative drive whether it takes the team forward or sets it back. In other words, celebrate the spirit of innovation, win or lose. Remember, all worthwhile progress is a product of trial and error. In the long run, a team of joyfully collaborating innovators will outpace and out-perform their competitors despite the bumps and hiccups they hit and the scars and bruises they bear.
Finally, I hesitate to give you a fifth tip, but most of my blog posts reiterate the concept of leaders as role models. The same applies to innovation. You must go first! Managers need to flex their muscles of openness and curiosity. Managers create the employee environment where motivation can flourish. I leave you with this thought, then: How will you model the way, today, tomorrow, and in the future?