It’s easy for human enterprises to get comfortable with “good enough” and “that’s how we’ve always done things.” But for real success to take place, we need to be much more active when it comes to fostering growth, change and experimentation. Here are eight ways leaders can give their employees what they need to think outside the box.
1. Focus on Employee Development
As millennials have overtaken other generations in the workforce over the last few years, they’ve made one thing clear: They want jobs that inspire them and make it easy to pursue personal and professional development. It’s a happy accident, then, that fostering growth like this is also a great way to inspire innovation and experimentation. Employees who receive incentives to take ownership of their learning, achieve certifications or even migrate into new responsibilities and new roles are also the likeliest to bring new ideas forward and drive meaningful change.
2. Rethink Brainstorming
Nobody reading this is a stranger to brainstorming sessions. And it’s true enough: Brainstorming can be a phenomenal way to solicit ideas and uncover creative avenues that might’ve stayed closed otherwise. But maybe it’s time to think differently about how we go about it.
When we think of brainstorming, round-table meetings are often the first thing we envision. But a lot of potentially game-changing ideas go unsaid in meetings because of the pressure to perform in public. Instead, chart a course by gathering employee ideas beforehand and offering them up to the group for review, without names attached, before you even sit down together.
3. Wave Goodbye to Micromanagement
Everybody who’s ever held a leadership position knows how easy it can be to slip into a micromanagement mindset. But when it comes to fearlessly trying out new ideas and pushing the envelope, leaders can’t afford to be overly prescriptive about how their team members accomplish their tasks or the tools they use. Employees can’t do their best work, nor engage in their most creative thinking, if their higher-ups say things like, “That’s not how we do things here,” any more than they need to.
4. Create More Flexible Schedules
With flexible thinking in mind, it’s time to consider employee schedules and workflows. There’s plenty of documentation to back up the argument that human beings don’t all do their best thinking at the same time of day. There are positive benefits to offering customizable schedules and flextime to employees — including lower absenteeism, lower turnover and higher engagement.
A minor nip or tuck to an individual’s schedule can help them avoid rush hour, for example, or spend time with their family when they need it most. Employees always appreciate that level of responsiveness to their needs, and they’ll reward that generosity by being more invested in their work and diving headfirst into new challenges and new modes of thinking.
5. Make Time for Unstructured Experimentation
One of the best things a company can do when it comes to innovation is to provide employees with the time and resources they need to freely experiment with new techniques or try to build something of their own. That’s what 3M promises each of its employees: time out of every day to pursue their interests and try out new ideas. There’s no telling what your organization could come up with if you encourage creativity by literally making it an expected part of the job.
6. Keep the Feedback Coming
Most employees are genuinely interested in receiving workplace feedback at more regular intervals. But the more unstructured this feedback is, the more successful and illuminating it can be. Managers and leaders should touch base personally with their team members at least once a month and treat every employee interaction like a conversation. Find out what’s been going well and what hasn’t. Ask them whether they had any successes or failures. The more regularly both parties exchange feedback with one another, the more ideas you’ll have bubbling to the surface.
7. Provide the Right Tools
Do your employees do their best work on one platform versus another? Is there a piece of software that could slash hours from repetitive tasks for one of your teams? There’s no question your company has some non-negotiable workflows and organizational tools. But for everything else, consider what your employees are telling you about the tools they rely on to get their work done. Whenever you can, find out how an upgrade here or there could help them get their busywork done more quickly, so they have more bandwidth to spare for thinking creatively.
8. Surroundings That Foster Creativity
Several researchers have concluded employees can’t be their most creative and innovative selves if they don’t have an environment that supports that kind of thinking. The modern workplace must offer spaces that encourage both focus and relaxation, as needed. Design spaces that accommodate both individual task management as well as gathering in larger groups. Take a vote on the open floor plan.
Consider every element of your workplace, from how well you’ve insulated against outside noise to whether there are places employees can retreat to get into a deep state of focus or to shut out distractions while they solve problems. There are valid reasons for bringing color theory into the workplace, too, and exploring which hues seem to provide the right balance of comfort and creative stimulation. Hint: Yellow links with creativity.
Every company and organization has to change over time if they want to accomplish lasting success. When companies keep these eight fundamentals in mind and make it a point to encourage trial and error, that’s when their people are most likely to hit upon the company’s — or the world’s — next big idea.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.