Innovation is key to the survival of organizations in every walk of life. In order to fully exploit it though, it should not be restricted to one department, or only come from people in the top tier positions. Ideas and creative thinking need to be encouraged throughout entire companies, from top to bottom. While many companies have already realized this and are encouraging ideas, however, many are failing in a very basic way.
There are a number of benefits to fostering employee innovation. The view from the bottom is obviously different from the view at the top, and those who work from such a position are able to see the gaps in an organization’s processes - the hold-ups and the unnecessary costs, anything that may be preventing a firm from reaching its full potential - in a way that others can’t. It also has the added benefit of boosting morale. People want to have their ideas listened to, they want to be a valued cog in the organization. Employees who feel like their ideas are valued feel like they have more responsibility, and they invest themselves more in the business, working harder and staying longer as a result.
There are many simple ways of encouraging employee innovation. Before you expect employees to innovate, you must lead by example, and be new and fresh in your working practices. Getting rid of inflexible 9-5 working hours is an easy way of doing this, and allowing staff to work when they feel they work best will not only show you trust them, it should greatly optimize their output.
Key to innovation is having a number of different perspectives in a team. While it’s important that you employ people who understand your vision and align with your culture, this does not mean exclusively hiring people exactly like you. You need to have a diverse team, with diverse ideas, diverse backgrounds, and diverse experience.
These are all things that many companies are already doing and if you’re not, you should be. However, the EveryDay Innovation report, published by Wazoku last October, found that while the average UK business receives 31,200 ideas a year, just 43% of these ideas are acknowledged, and only 39% are implemented. It seems like a significant number of companies are capable of promoting ideas, but they are falling down where it actually matter, effectively rendering all these sorts of initiatives completely redundant. The really troubling statistic here is the lack of acknowledgement of ideas. The implementation numbers are, if anything, fairly good, as there are always going to be bad ideas, or ideas that companies are unable to put in place for practical reasons. Failing to acknowledge ideas, however, is a sin against innovation, and will fast make employees wonder what the point of it all is. Companies should be creating a relaxed and flexible work environment that encourages ideas without ridicule and negativity. If you fail to acknowledge an idea, you may as well be ridiculing it. Give all ideas the chance to be aired, no matter how ridiculous they may sound initially. It’s also important to encourage a culture where it’s clear you are willing to take a certain, sensible, level of risk on a proposal, and allow staff not only to present their ideas, but give them the chance to trial them and prove what a success they can be.