Ideas are a valuable commodity, and they’re everywhere. Whether they come from existing business leaders, or from ambitious graduates who have set up a fledgling business from their bedroom. How can you actively encourage the creation of an ideas environment, and how can you ensure that not only are ideas generated and listened to, but that action also follows?
What type of culture promotes an ideas environment?
Some businesses permanently work in an ideas environment; organisations that are inventive such as game changing companies in traditional industries, like Dyson, and entire creative industries such as fashion and advertising. For example, Dyson’s bagless vacuum started a new phase in vacuum technology, and with their continued focus on innovation they consistently develop new ideas around how to improve other domestic equipment, mostly by removing traditional components such as bags and blades.
In creative and technology industries, ideas led companies such as Google, Saatchi &
Saatchi and Virgin are known for having fancy offices with bean bags, bright colours and a brainstorming environment. At Apple, Steve Jobs set up individual teams that would come up with ideas, collaborating with other teams to bring them to life.
But we’re not all in exciting, creative industries. How can a more traditional company start to benefit from ideas & innovation from all areas of their business?
5 Ways to encourage innovation:
- Create the right environment. CEOs and senior management need to lead by example and create realistic challenges for the team. Remember that your team is currently working in an environment based on processes and procedures, so coming from a structured background, you may need to research some mind/thought exercises. Add ‘ideas’ as an agenda item at senior management team meetings and review, and report on progress. Get some external help to start with, if this is a new initiative, people may be reluctant to participate based on fear of rejection, and may need guidance on how to take part.
- Communication. Consistent communication is key to success. Kick off your creative environment initiative with clear communication, so everyone knows that ideas are part of your management strategy, and what will happen to these ideas. Ensure your team is kept up to date on progress and openly acknowledge ideas which are going to be implemented. Feedback on ideas should be 360 degrees, so make it known that everyone can discuss and challenge ideas openly, regardless of their role within the company.
- Set realistic challenges. Rather than just asking for ideas, begin with focussing on areas of your business which have issues, or need improving. The management team should set realistic challenges in these areas. SMART objectives provide a good framework for goal setting.
- Processes. It may sound contradictory that when talking about creating an ideas environment to discuss processes, but ideas, in an unstructured environment will always stay as just ideas. Ideas need to be documented, discussed, reviewed and challenged before they can be implemented.
- Champions. Have a team member from each department, and from differing levels of seniority to be your Ideas Environment Champion. The Champion’s role is to advocate, promote, implement and importantly, strive to remove barriers! When resources are assigned to initiatives such as this, the chances of success are increased. Statistics show that initiatives with executive sponsorship have higher success rates than projects which do not, (77% success rate vs. 46% success rate in meeting initiative goals and objectives) so ensure you have an influential Executive Champion too.
Some practical tips!
Reward creativity. Rewards can be in the form of public acknowledgement of a team’s or individual’s idea or remuneration. This will demonstrate to other employees that the management team values and actively encourages ideas.
Capturing all ideas. Ensure there are ways for employees to suggest their ideas publicly, and privately, for those who are less confident in an open environment.
Teams of innovators. Task teams with specific areas of your business on which to concentrate. Set deadlines and have the team present and report their findings.
Be receptive. Be open-minded to suggestions and never be judgemental. Employees may be nervous of making mistakes, but innovators take risks, so encourage and promote an open dialogue. Provide clear guidelines on any “sacred cows” if they exist, and provide guidance on how teams can structure their ideas to present them internally.
Diversity. Encourage cross team working, putting together team members who do not usually interact with each other. This will encourage new ways of thinking.
Make it fun. A change of scenery can inject some fresh thinking into the workplace, so try alternative locations to the office for brainstorming sessions. A small budget to encourage this can go a long way.
As with changing any aspect of a company’s culture, championing initiatives such as creating an ideas environment takes time and effort. Innovation may start as an initiative, but going forward, must become part of your company’s culture, supporting your strategy for success.