Encouraging Employee Innovation in the Workplace

Chalk drawing of yellow lightbulb symbolizing employee innovation

What Is Workplace Innovation?

Workplace innovation is a process of implementing something new—a new way of thinking, creating, and working. It encourages employees to be passionate about their work, and it harnesses the power of employee creativity to create new solutions to old problems. 

If it isn’t already, workplace innovation should be a part of your strategic plan and involve every employee on your team. It’s that critical to your success as a business.

Innovation vs. Creativity

While innovation and creativity are closely related, there is a difference between the two that’s helpful to keep in mind.

As it relates to workplace innovation, creativity encompasses the ability to discover new and original ideas, connections, and solutions to problems. On the other hand, innovation is better described as the practical implementation of what creativity discovers. 

Simply put:

  • Creativity = Ability
  • Innovation = Implementation

Why Innovation & Creativity Are Important in Business

Innovation requires creativity. If you want to implement new, better solutions for your business, your team must have the ability to discover them in the first place. 

However, creativity on its own isn’t necessarily fruitful. Your team must have the innovative workplace practices in place that take creative ideas and implement them into purposeful and productive results.

Creativity and innovation in organizations are equally important. You need both to flourish.

In fact, creativity and innovation in organizations are so important that Google dedicates intentional time for it. Their “20 percent time” strategy gives employees one day a week (or 20 percent of their time) to work on a Google-related passion project of their own.

It’s a strategy so successful it’s credited with creating AdSense, Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google Talk, and more. 

Got your attention, yet?

Benefits of Workplace Innovation

The sky’s the limit when we’re talking about innovation in the workplace benefits. That’s why it’s such a critical part of any business’s success. 

Some of the major benefits include:

  • Improved processes
  • Better products and offerings 
  • Increased sales
  • Happier customers or clients
  • Reduced costs
  • More engaged employees
  • Better employee retention
  • Healthier company culture

Workplace Innovation Challenges

Any effort worth pursuing has its challenges. That’s life. Employee innovation is no exception, and there will be challenges that come up as you develop it in your workplace. 

It’s good to know from the beginning what you’re up against. Some of the major challenges include:

1. Focus

It can be hard to focus on something as seemingly nebulous as innovation when daily demands are fighting for your attention. Intentionally set time aside for it and turn off all distractions. 

2. Team Management

Allowing employees the time to brainstorm, innovate, and play around with passion projects may be somewhat out of a manager’s comfort zone if they normally run a tight ship. This is where regular meetings can be especially helpful to know what people are working on.

3. Transparency

Transparency is always important within a team, but employees may feel vulnerable about sharing their innovative ideas—especially if this way of working is new for your business. Regularly encourage your team to be transparent with each other, reminding them that no idea is a bad idea and failure is all a part of the process. 

10 Techniques to Encourage Employee Innovation

1. Empower Employees to Problem Solve

No one wins with micromanagement. The manager is exhausted and never gets meaningful projects done. The staff is demeaned and often frightened to figure anything out on their own. Discourage micromanagement and empower employees to problem solve.

2. Incentivize Staff

Days to work on just the “fun” projects your staff are passionate about? Monetary prizes for a certain number of innovative ideas submitted, however mundane or grandiose they may initially seem? Company-wide honors to show your gratitude for innovative employees? Ask yourself: What would incentivize my staff to be creative and innovative? Then run with it!

3. Remove Red Tape

No one likes red tape. Need I say more?

4. Foster Communication and Collaboration

This may be more challenging in today’s pandemic climate with companies fluctuating between in-person, hybrid, and fully remote work situations. Yet while it may be more challenging than ever, fostering communication and collaboration is essential for encouraging employee innovation. 

Don’t let people fall into remote work silos. Streamline the project management and communication tools your team uses so everyone is on the same page. It’s also helpful to build regular brainstorm meetings into your schedules. 

5. Develop an Innovation Strategy

You need to be intentional if you’re truly going to encourage employee innovation. Develop an innovation strategy and, for the best results, make sure you have a variety of personality types on your planning team.

6. Accept and Welcome Failure

An instance of failure doesn’t mean your business is a failure. It simply means you’re trying new things! Failure is an inevitable part of creativity, innovation, and success. Welcome it, and make sure your team understands this as well.

7. Embrace Experimentation

Along the same lines of accepting failure is embracing experimentation. Experiment, fail, learn, and enjoy the messy path to success.

8. Make Time and Space for Innovation

Innovation doesn’t just happen. It certainly doesn’t happen when team members are glued to email or Slack. Intentionally make the uninterrupted time and space innovation demands.

9. Prioritize Preventing Burnout

No surprise here, but a burned-out employee is not going to be innovative. How can you prevent burnout? Consider your company’s attitude toward rest. Do you offer generous PTO to all of your employees, not just the C-suite? Do you encourage people to take time off, or do you hound them via email and Slack while they’re on vacation? 

Rest may feel like a sacrifice, but it’s smarter than sacrificing the health and well-being of your employees. If you want your team to innovate, make sure they rest and recharge, too. 

10. Reward Successful Innovations

When an innovation is successful, celebrate! Reward the employees and teams involved. Encourage them to continue being creative and bold. Those involved will be inspired to do it again, and hopefully other employees will be inspired as well.

5 Innovative Workplace Practices and Examples

1. Create an Innovation Program

Create an official innovation program for your employees. Offer courses on fostering innovation and creativity in the workplace and schedule innovation retreats. Show you’re serious about encouraging employee innovation.

2. Have Stand-up Meetings

Have a daily stand-up meeting where employees can share the status of their projects. Standing up helps get the blood flowing — let’s face it, we’re all too sedentary — and naturally keeps a check on how long employees take to report about their projects.

3. Set Parameters for Ideation

Parameters help innovation and creativity, rather than hinder them. What parameters would be helpful to your employees? Deciding on these parameters could itself be an exercise of innovative thinking for your team.

4. Feed Creativity and Inspiration

An inspiring workspace is one way to feed creativity. If your employees work remotely, here’s an opportunity to get creative yourself. Maybe you send monthly inspiration right to their house?  A house plant, a small art kit, or a gift card are all means of creating an inspiring workspace at home. Plus, the regular act of kindness can develop company loyalty and feelings of appreciation.

5. Create Innovation Accountability Buddies

Again, I’m not promoting micromanagement, but we all need accountability. Setting up a buddy system between employees is a great way to do that without using pressure from an authority figure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Can I Celebrate Innovation in the Workplace?

Work hard. Play hard. It’s important to celebrate success! Employees always appreciate public recognition and rewards such as gift cards or bonuses. 

What Activities Encourage Innovation?

Innovation programs, innovation accountability buddies, brainstorm sessions, rewards, and stand-up meetings are all examples of activities that encourage innovation.

How Can I Inspire Innovation on a Team as a Manager?

If you want to inspire your team to innovate, you need to empower them to solve their own problems, teach them that failure is a necessary part of the innovative process, and reward their successes.

Learn More About How to Encourage Employee Innovation in Your Workplace

If you’d like to learn more about how to encourage employee innovation in your workplace, feel free to contact me for more information about my coaching and strategic planning services.