One of the best qualities attributed to world-class leaders is their ability to lead their organizations with bold innovation and creative gravitas. What you may not realize is that these leaders don’t always come up with all the great ideas, but they foster environments where creative ideas are encouraged and explored regularly.
A crucial element to an effective work environment is the openness to new ideas that have the possibility of improving the product, services, vendor relationships and even the organization itself. There are a variety of ways that you can do just that, but the following three ways will encourage creativity to flow through all areas of your organization:
1. Allow Failures
Employees won’t be creative or innovative if they fear a backlash from failure. This is reflected primarily in how their leader responds when they make a mistake. Now I’m not suggesting that you tell your team that it’s okay whenever a mistake happens. What’s more important is that you first sympathize with their disappointment, and let them know that you are there to support them through it. They don’t need you to berate them on the consequences of their actions – the average employee is usually aware of this. What they learn from their mistakes is far more significant, than the possible repercussions that may follow. So…make sure you ask them what they have gained from that experience to reinforce the learning.
Always welcome new ideas and self manage your responses with intentionality. You never want an employee to feel foolish bringing up a concern or a new way of looking at a problem. If you’re not sure how to respond with a new idea,simply ask more questions about it until you get enough detail to formulate a constructive response. Don’t be afraid to thank them for their contribution and let them know that you will schedule another time to discuss when you are more prepared (and then make sure do it!)
Be quick to jump in when maverick ideas surface in team meetings. Instead of laughing the idea off nervously like the rest of your team might, express a sincere appreciation for that contribution and offer to deliberate that option at a later date (and then make sure you do it). Meet privately with this individual and if the idea develops into something substantial, bring it up at your next team meeting.
2. Make Time for Brainstorming
If you have never done this before, it will take a little getting used to but it’s important to start somewhere. Perhaps you begin at your annual work retreat on a new product idea; or discuss new accounts payable options at your quarterly financial review, or maybe even book a monthly timeslot for a “Continuous Improvement” meeting where no idea is a bad idea. In the first part of this meeting, simply record the idea down, and resist the temptation to analyze or get more clarity. You will break the flow of creative energy by adding reason to the process. Jot down ideas first, analyze later.
If you happen to have a large quantity of ideas during your brainstorming sessions, you can analyze and decide to move in two ways:
- Prioritize the ideas that will provide the most impact to your organization right away.
- If most of the options have similar impacts, then prioritize tasks that can be completed more quickly. This will help build momentum as you try to build up a culture of creativity.
You’re inevitably going to come across ideas that aren’t as good as others. If you are brainstorming, show appreciation for the contribution by writing it down (I like to use mind mapping software), and then work as a team to refine the best options. The person who contributes the idea will likely agree with the rest of the team as their idea falls towards the wayside. Always affirm all contributions, but state that right now we won’t be following up with them. Keep those ideas recorded somewhere, and review back regularly. An idea that may seem foolish today may be the saving idea for the organization in five years.
3. Recognition and Reward
Reward those who come up with ideas by actively recognizing creativity verbally in group meetings but also make sure you remember to include this as a part of the annual employee review process. If strategy and innovation isn’t a part of your team’s annual performance review, you’ll never start to see real change in this area.
Remember that it’s not about recognizing ideas that turn into successes. In the beginning, it’s important that you recognize creative thinking and innovation even if it doesn’t turn out to be the next multi-million dollar venture. As you move along, you’ll want to affirm the best ideas in your idea makers, and you’ll also want to affirm the rare idea from your more quiet members.
Within the whole creative mindset is an attitude of openness and possibility. If your team currently struggles with innovation, this process of change will not happen quickly, but small steps daily and weekly are all you need to begin to turn the tide. You’ll start to see creativity blossom in your team in no time, but more importantly you’ll see your organization grow in its core mandate to serve key stakeholders more effectively.