Five ways to cultivate innovation

Innovation is key to surviving in the modern world, but does your workplace cultivate or asphyxiate those big ideas?


The era of 'average' is over.

In today's increasingly competitive global marketplace, its place has been taken by real, measurable, game-changing innovation that ensures a market-strategic position and creates sustainable growth.

And yet, despite its top position on the CEO agenda, innovation is a challenge and a constant struggle for most companies. A leading employee training organization, MAAM, divulged that innovation is a top priority for the majority of tech firms, yet creating an environment that fosters is still a tough thing to achieve. In a PWC annual survey, 64% of participants said innovation and operational effectiveness are equally important to the success of their company, but only a few of them had well-defined innovation strategies to seek out opportunities. In most cases, they struggled with resource constraints, limited finances and a lack of structured innovation processes and procedures.

Even more problematic is that a large percentage of companies don't have a clear understanding of the innovation game just yet, and so they are unable to adjust their tactics to accommodate the new requirements. Because surprise and unpredictability are at the heart of innovation, businesses cannot lay bet on the same horse – they must change their approach to leadership and their attitude towards employee engagement.

This article covers five strategies you can implement to ensure your office doesn't stifle employee innovation and creativity.

Focus on physical well-being

For a long time, managers' focus was primarily on setting up functional workstations for employees who sat at their desks for the entire duration of their workday. However, the information and technology we have access to today prompts us to rethink employees' physical wellbeing and furnish the office in a way that successfully accommodates the needs of an increasingly mobile worker.

Beloved employers like Google, Huffington Post, White & Case and Mercedes-Benz seriously acknowledge the connection between sleep and productivity, and thus, they initiated the configuration of napping stations, sleeping mattresses and pods.

The isolating cubicle, the drab carpeting and the desolating vertical blinds have only led to metabolic disorders, chronic pain, eye strain, low work performance and reduced concentration so far. Today's employee is working longer hours but sitting down far less. Workers spend more time standing at their desk, moving around the office and taking frequent breaks, so it's crucial to ensure a wide variety of ergonomic furniture solutions that promote mobility and physical well-being. Open-space offices furnished with shared desks, adjustable workstations, break rooms and lounges address the flexibility and mobility needs of workers and inspire them to communicate more effectively.

Forget about "one-size-fits-all" solutions

As the world of work continues to evolve, so should managers' attitude towards employee needs. Different generations – baby boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials – may work side by side in today's workplace, but they have different mindsets, work styles and personal interests.

The key is to successfully address and benefit from the differences in needs and expectations of each generation. Baby boomers may be more competitive than and not as independent-minded as those belonging to Gen X, while they would likely not display so much interest for technology and teamwork as Millennials. To set up an engaging and innovation-driving work environment, managers should give employees the flexibility and freedom of choice they need, even if this means allowing them to set up their own schedule or working offsite.

Don't forget about morale

Nothing impacts productivity and overall office morale more than disengaged employees. A recent Automatic Data Processing, Inc (ADP) study assessed the cost of each actively disengaged employee: $2,246 per year, and that's not even the most startling news. A recent poll by Gallup revealed that 87% of the American workforce is not engaged or actively disengaged, costing the US economy a whopping $450–$550bn every year.

Needless to say, disengaged employees are not innovation drivers. For them to be able to come up with million-dollar ideas, they must feel their work is making them grow as people. Above all, next-generation employees value meaning, learning, challenge and a sense of belonging. Your role as a manager is to ensure they experience their work as personally meaningful and purposeful, making sure the feedback they receive is constructive and useful.

Another important aspect is to make quality and supportive employee-management relationships a priority, encouraging communication between members of your teams and their superiors. Also, make sure the rules and policies of the workplace are enforced equally and fairly for all those working in the office.

Create a vibrant ecosystem

Transforming the workplace as an ecosystem of internally connected and interdependent places that support the physical, cognitive and emotional needs of people is key to creating an organization that thrives. First, the ecosystem should put at employees' disposal a wide palette of destinations that promote cross-generational interaction and grants access to the tools and resources they can only find at work. Secondly, it should provide a wide variety of 'posture-spaces' that encourage workers to alternate sitting and standing while performing their work duties and thirdly, it should set up 'presence-spaces' that encourage both physical and virtual interactions (minimizing the moments when effective communication is not possible because people are not physically located in the same space).

Break the boredom

Moving from the colder, less-welcoming work environment to a fun and functional office space makes it more attractive to open-minded employees has already been proven to work for companies like Facebook and Google. Open, wall-less and naturally-lit areas where employees can work, but also play video games, relax on rooftop sun decks, unwind on comfy couches or take a break at the company's own coffee bar are the ones that the next generation of knowledge workers prefer. Contrary to what most managers think, redesigning the workspace to better match employees' needs and preferences is not a zero-profit investment.

Adapting for the generation that is going to lead the workforce for the next 50 years is the only way to boost organizational performance.

Putting innovation at the center of your business model is, no doubt about it, a high-risk, but also a high-reward proposition. If you want to have some of the brightest minds working by your side, you must not fear change.

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