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How To Encourage Innovation Among Employees


Businesses don’t succeed by relying only on ideas from the top. Although your executives and leaders should be focusing on ways to innovate and improve your business, oftentimes the best and brightest ideas come from your staff. After all, they regularly interact with the nitty gritty details of running your business, and often have unique insights into ways to improve your workflow, your business strategy, your marketing tactics or other key aspects of your business to help you succeed.

However, company cultures do not always encourage employees to share their ideas. Often, employees report that they feel would be putting their neck out on the line to present an idea, like replenishing their printer ink cartridges with an online subscription service, or that they have no official means of turning their ideas into real changes. You can mitigate this by taking steps to help your employees feel more comfortable presenting you with innovative ideas.

Develop your company culture to prioritize ideas over ranking

One of the most impactful ways to improve your employees’ comfort in bringing forward ideas is changing your company culture to invite opinions from lower-ranking employees. This means, for one, developing policies that enthusiastically encourage employees to come forward. It also means training managers to be receptive to employee ideas and to pass them along rather than ignore them. You should ensure all members of your company understand your stance on innovation among employees.

Develop a clear message of encouragement that invites employees to bring any ideas forward, and give employees multiple options to present the ideas they have. This doesn’t necessarily mean ask your employees to approach the head of the company with an idea - HBR reported that employees who feel like their boss would represent them in presenting an idea were 10 percent more likely to bring forward their suggestions. Passing ideas along is more helpful to encouraging employees to share than asking them to approach someone several rungs above them on the ladder.

Encourage communication between individuals and departments

While you shouldn’t ask employees to approach upper management alone, encouraging a culture of open communication can help employees feel more comfortable presenting ideas, help ideas spread through a company more easily and help employees collaborate to come up with better ideas. This also means being open about failures in the company, which can help employees understand what the business struggles to accomplish and where it could use help.

During the Gulf War, Southwest Airlines’ open sharing policy enabled the company to save money as fuel prices soared. CEO Herb Kelleher sent a memo to his employees asking for suggestions to address the financial strain. Pilots immediately came together to propose a solution that would cut on fuel expenses without compromising safety. By sharing, rather than obscuring, difficulties with your staff, you enable them to come up with ways to address the problem, rather than work around it.

Increase employee engagement by addressing employee needs

One way to encourage employees to share more is by encouraging them to care more. Employee engagement measures how dedicated or connected an employee is to their workplace - how invested they are in its success, whether they want to see their career continue there, whether they engage with ongoing issues or merely do the minimum to accommodate or ignore them.

Companies can increase employee engagement by taking steps to take care of employees’ needs, including developing policies to protect the work-life balance. Studies have shown that despite previous beliefs, employees are actually more productive when they’re happy rather than when they’re stressed or worried about their jobs. This means employees who like their jobs, and therefore willingly spend personal time mulling over complex issues and coming up with solutions.

Companies that want their employees to innovate and develop new ideas must take steps to ensure their employees feel welcome to share ideas. This means encouraging employees to learn about and think about company issues, and making them feel like their insight is welcome through intentional messaging and management training. Companies that encourage their employees to present innovative ideas are more competitive and have a greater edge.

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