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5 ways to encourage innovation in the workplace

7 Aug 2019

Cheryl Cran explains how you can encourage innovation within your organisation by following a few simple steps.

In a recent NextMapping survey of over 1,000 leaders and teams from multiple industries — including tech, health, insurance and gaming — more than 56pc stated that they struggle with daily innovation.

Workfront’s World of Work report states that some of the roadblocks to innovation include time, culture and mindset. A primary solution is focusing on how to leverage time in the workplace. Could meetings be shortened to 30 minutes? Could the meeting format be changed to a stand-up huddle in lieu of a formal sit-down in a meeting room? Leaders and teams need to deliberately carve out time to find innovative solutions for both customers and employees.

Recently, I worked with a gaming tech firm in Las Vegas. It has enjoyed unprecedented growth in the past few years. The challenge with rapid growth is growing pains. Where the company has innovated exceptionally well for its clients, there are operational challenges internally. One of the ideas shared with the leadership team was to transform the employee experience.

Often, we think of innovation as a concept, as something that needs to be done. However, it needs to instead be viewed as a daily action. The company culture needs to create an environment where real-time creativity is viewed as part of innovation.

The aforementioned company had created an online platform to share innovative ideas and it was successful. My challenge to them was to pose a specific innovation challenge around improving the employee experience.

The big opportunity is to help leaders and teams to build an innovation mindset focused on creating the future of work, customer experience and employee experience.

‘In order to both innovate and create the future, you need intelligence that goes beyond the classic metric of IQ’

Here are 5 ways leaders and teams can cultivate an innovation mindset:

1. Create awareness. First, leaders need to establish the awareness that innovation is actually a combination of real-time creative ideas along with breakthrough ideas. Often, workers are so focused on getting daily work done that they do not think or even consider thinking and to look at creative solutions as they approach their tasks.

2. Focus on ‘in common’ approach. The ‘in common’ approach is to look at every challenge with either people or problems looked at through a new lens. The new lens is to ask, ‘What do I/we have in common with this person or situation that is a challenge?’ For example, if IT and marketing are having a disagreement often the focus will be on how different each group is. Instead, leaders and teams need to shift thinking to ask questions such as, ‘What do we both want that is the same?’, and, ‘What are our common goals?”

3. Ask your customers and employees. Crowdsourcing is the way to speed up innovation and to create usable solutions that benefit people. When you think about some of the most innovative companies such as Apple, Starbucks and Airbnb, much of their innovation is driven by customer and employee feedback.

For example, Apple’s innovations are often linked to the many customer forums of its clients complaining about aspects of the Apple products. Apple does a great job of listening to the client closely. The famous Starbucks Frappucino was borne of an employee idea and it became a major innovation for the company. Airbnb’s add-on service of local tour guides was also a customer idea.

4. Diversity thinking creates new ideas. Help leaders and teams to see the value of diversity and its role in innovation. Using the Starbucks example again, the idea for Starbucks as a company was generated by a visit to Italy and seeing the unique opportunity of bringing Italian culture to the mainstream.

Encourage workers to have ‘culture share’ sessions at work. There is much to learn in hearing about the multitude of cultures and how they work and live. The gaming company mentioned earlier in this article is multinational in over 90 countries. While multicultural companies can have challenges, they can also be the most innovative due to the merging of cultural ideas.

Workers need to see diversity in all its forms as an opportunity to think about both customer experience and employee experience through new eyes.

5. Multiple perspectives thinking. In order to both innovate and create the future, you need intelligence that goes beyond the classic metric of IQ. Skills such as emotional intelligence, creative intelligence, generational intelligence and more need to be taught and ingrained into the minds of all workers.

Multiple intelligences help to broaden perspectives. When workers think of their work as multi-layered, they are able to consistently build the innovation mindset muscle. For example, in an organisation with multiple departments, often those departments are siloed. When workers have multiple perspectives, they are able to break out of silo thinking and, in turn, silo solutions.

As a result, leaders and teams will consistently think of how what they’re doing in their department will affect all other departments, as well as the customer.

The future requires innovative thinking and it requires a shift away from thinking of innovation as a concept and instead  as a mindset that needs to be embedded into the minds of all workers. When organisations have a dominant focus on innovation as an inherent requirement of every single worker we will see a rapid acceleration in the improvement of both customer experience and employee experience in the future of work.

By Cheryl Cran

Cheryl Cran is a future-of-work expert and author of NextMapping: Anticipate, Navigate & Create the Future of Work.

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