A team’s ability to innovate is hard to quantify, and yet, in many cases, is one of the top predictors of long-term success. After all, today’s corporate landscape is rapidly changing and evolving, thanks to emerging markets and new technologies. As a manager, how do you encourage your employees to embrace a spirit of innovation? Here are some tips:
- Collaborate: Innovative, successful entities like BMW put a lot of thought and effort into promoting collaboration and decentralizing authority. According to Forbes, the company’s headquarters in Munich is structured like a spoked wheel, with each department within a stone’s throw of all the others. This makes open and unstructured collaboration possible, encouraging the generation of new thoughts and projects. On the other hand, imagine a company in which only two top-level executives are allowed to contact the CEO. Many innovations would likely shrivel and die on the vine.
- Encourage failure: If you want to encourage a culture of innovation, you will need to comfortable with failure. Employees are not going to go out on a limb pitching a new idea if managers are completely averse to risk. So don’t just praise successful new ideas — be sure to also reward innovations that fail.
- Listen: If you and your fellow managers and executives don’t have an ear to the ground and a willingness to listen to fresh ideas, it won’t matter how innovative your employees are. Try to imagine yourself on a constant listening tour, open to suggestions from everyone from the intern to the CEO. You never know where the next big idea will come from.
- Make it a core value: To really thrive, innovation must be a core value in your company’s culture, rather than an afterthought or symbolic gesture. “I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game,” writes former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner in his book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance.” In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value. Vision, strategy, marketing, financial management — any management system, in fact — can set you on the right path and carry you for a while. But no enterprise — whether in business, government, education, health care, or any area of human endeavor — will succeed over the long haul if those elements aren’t part of its DNA.”
- Schedule it: Innovative companies like 3M and Google expect their employees to schedule unscheduled time in which they can focus on innovative, pie-in-the-sky ideas. According to Fast Company, it was during this unstructured period — known in the company as “15 percent time” — that a 3M employee came up with the idea for the Post-It note. Google provides a similar employee incentive, although there it’s 20 percent of the normal workday. The search engine giant says that the unscheduled time led to the development of Gmail and Google Earth.
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