Contact theSOPAbout theSOPSupport theSOPWritersEditorsManaging Editors
theSOP logo
Published:August 15th, 2013 13:01 EST
Workplace Innovation: Getting Employees to Think Their Way Through the Day

Workplace Innovation: Getting Employees to Think Their Way Through the Day

By Jay Forte

Innovation isn`t natural. Common sense says it should be " you know, keep inventing to stay ahead of the pack. But we hate change. Something in our lizard brains wants us to live life in the safe lane; anything that creates change sends the alarms going off and brings us to our instinctive fight-or-flight response. We have a built-in aversion to change and innovation is intentional change.


By its nature we set up an adversarial relationship with our employees about innovation unless we reframe it into something less fearful and less lizard-brain challenging.  Consider these ways to take the scare, sting and fear out of innovation so it can be the powertool for growth and performance:


  1. Provide context. Employees need to understand both the need and value of innovation. To create a friendlier environment for employee innovation, consider adding more details, greater information and a more complete strategy and vision. Seeing a road map creates greater safety for employees to take more calculated risks and innovate in very particular areas. Employees can better associate cause and effect when they see the big picture.


  1. Make innovation a company value. Virtually every organizations claims to be innovative; they say it because their consultants and today`s thought leaders recommend this. But for it to be practical, it has to come off the vision statement and into life. Change every employee`s job to include regular idea submissions for improvements, efficiencies or enhancements in services for customers. Celebrate great ideas. Celebrate great effort. Respond to all ideas submitted. Move innovation and ideas into the daily dialog, emails, company communication and CEO-speak. One of my clients has PIP " Performance Improvement Plan " that openly solicits ideas, shares which ideas seem like winners and celebrates all out-of-the-box thinking. Innovation and big-idea thinking is part of their culture not only in their values statement but also in the way they show up to their jobs each day.


  1. Train employees in how to push the limits. Face it, innovation initiatives that generate average and predictable ideas are really not innovation. The goal is to move past the conventional " past the same-old, same-old " in favor of new ideas, new thinking and expanded opportunities. Make it safe for employees to suggest extreme ideas; publicly applaud the non-conventional so that limits are erased. An organization I know has a Way Out of the Box " program. They offer education to help their employees learn how to brainstorm more effectively and have created a Way Out of the Box " idea submission center. The most out-of-the-box ideas are publicly applauded even if they are not selected. Big is expected. Small is moved to large through training and coaching.


Think Big should be the message to all of our employees, all of the time. In a workplace and economy that is dynamic, changing and competitive, it is impossible for management to be the only innovators. Innovation truly belongs to all employees. Employees are the eyes and the ears of the organization, connecting with each other, customers, suppliers and the outside world. To see possibilities, opportunities and potential, employees have to feel safe to push the limits, fight the fear of change signals and see that the organization as an entity is committed to innovation. And in the wise words of management consultant Peter Drucker, If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old. " That requires packing your brain when you pack your lunch.