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July 28, 2021

How to Promote Creativity and Innovation at Work

For many people, going to work is an experience they dread. Unfortunately, lots of organizations focus more on routines and standardization than on creating a dynamic culture of engagement and experimentation. While processes and standards are certainly important, today’s companies won’t survive if they don’t figure out how to promote creativity and innovation in the workplace.

Employees who are encouraged to explore, experiment, and even have fun at work will not only be happier and more engaged, but they’ll come up with better solutions and competition-busting ideas. This ultimately leads to a more profitable bottom line.

The question is: how can leaders foster more creativity and innovation in the workplace? The strategies can be as comprehensive as reshaping core cultural norms, but all it takes is a simple first step to get started.

Employees who are encouraged to explore, experiment, and even have fun at work will be happier and will generate better ideas.

So What Might More Creativity and Innovation at Work Look Like?

Before you can create a more dynamic work environment, it’s helpful to clarify what this might look like on a practical day-to-day level.

So if you showed up at a creative and innovative company, what would you notice?

  • Employees participating in ideation sessions to openly exchange ideas and problem-solve with colleagues
  • Cross-functional teams interacting and collaborating regularly
  • Teams engaging in testing and experimentation of various approaches
  • Leaders using creative exercises or games to stimulate ideas and build cohesion
  • Meetings where employees are actively sharing thoughts and opinions
  • A casual atmosphere where people can be themselves and express their own unique style
  • Employees who have some flexibility and autonomy to shape their time and work
  • Leaders whose personal presence communicates a mix of focus, passion, openness, and playfulness

What Are the Benefits of This Type of Work Environment?

You might be wondering—is the effort required to create a more dynamic workplace worthwhile? I’d say a resounding “yes!”

I see four main areas of benefit: Boosted employee morale, higher staff retention, better work output, and a healthier bottom line.

First, consider the impact on your employees’ experience of work. When you foster a dynamic environment infused with creativity and innovation, employees will be more likely to enjoy what they’re doing. Why? Well, think about your own professional experiences. Would you rather be in an organization with silos, unhealthy competition, repetitive work, and burdensome red tape? Or an organization characterized by collaboration, lively discussions, experimentation, flexibility, and a bit of fun?

A company with strong employee morale will naturally experience lower staff turnover. The more uniquely positive their experience is on the team, the more loyal your employees will be. And this translates to significant savings in time and money.

Additionally, as employees find more satisfaction, the quality of their work increases. A more dynamic and collaborative environment yields better ideas and more novel solutions. This allows the company to improve outcomes for clients and customers. This kind of improvement doesn’t go unnoticed. A creative workforce that’s steeped in innovation will stay ahead of the competition. The end result is an improved bottom line.

What Barriers Keep Companies from Fostering this Sort of Culture?

The benefits speak for themselves. However, if the positives are indeed so clear, then why aren’t more companies reshaping their workplace environments accordingly? There are still real barriers that discourage organizations from figuring out how to promote creativity and innovation within their walls.

For one thing, change is not easy. For lots of companies, the existing work culture has been baked-in for years. In this case, it’ll take a concerted and thoughtful change management plan to bring people along from one set of norms to another.

If employees are not psychologically ready to make the leap, this could also be a barrier. Shifting to a culture of increased flexibility and collaboration requires vulnerability, and not all employees are ready for this. In short, employees may initially fear having a “bad idea” or facing ridicule for sharing too much. These obstacles must be addressed in order to help employees feel safe enough to get on board.

On a company-wide level, the investment of time and resources in a culture-change initiative can feel like a hurdle. After all, as the old adage states, “time is money” in business. Not all companies feel comfortable devoting that time. This can cause them to put efficiency first instead of focusing on ensuring long-term success. In addition to that, the fear of failure is very real, and companies often prefer to keep the status quo instead of venturing into unproven territory.

These barriers are real concerns that have to be considered. Only by understanding these potential roadblocks can a leader strategize about how to work around them.

Tips for Fostering More Creativity and Innovation

Ok, so what can you do to cultivate more creativity and innovation in your workplace? Here are some strategies you can begin implementing today.

  • Take a Fresh Look at Your Company Values: In order to foster a different sort of work environment, take a look at your stated values. You want to create changes that stick, which means they need to be integrated into how your company fundamentally defines itself. Do the concepts of creativity and innovation show up in some way within your mission or core values? Make sure you put an emphasis on these concepts from the very start. This sets the tone you need to redefine your company culture.
  • Create Psychological Safety: For a culture of creativity and innovation to take hold, employees have to feel safe expressing themselves and coming up with ideas that may not always work. Instead of automatically criticizing ideas or punishing people for missteps, encourage a culture that celebrates the exploration of possibilities and learning from mistakes.
  • Promote a Growth Mindset: One way to cultivate more creativity and innovation in your employees is to help shift the team mindset from “let’s stick to what we know” to “let’s learn and try new things.” This growth-oriented mindset welcomes experimentation and risk-taking. Leaders who promote this mindset have confidence that their team will keep growing and improving, especially after encountering challenges.
  • Make Time for Brainstorming: In our fast-paced and “get it done yesterday” world, it’s easy for team meetings to become completely focused on status updates and near-term priorities. For ideation and innovation to occur, you’ve got to consciously make time for it. Set time aside in your agenda for the team to engage in brainstorming.
  • Give People a Heads Up: Moreover, be overt about brainstorming sessions. Not everyone does their best thinking in the moment. Letting employees know in advance that brainstorming will occur will give them (especially introverts) time to generate ideas and come ready to share.
  • Use the “Yes, And” Approach: When generating new ideas with the team, use a “yes, and” approach. Let ideas flow freely and build on each other. Most of the time, brainstorming sessions are cut short by real-time criticism or evaluation, e.g. “But that won’t work because of this.” This dose of realism may be necessary eventually, but it stops the initial flow of ideas and puts a damper on creativity. Instead, keep saying “yes, and” as a way of accepting the ideas on the table and building on them. Don’t take any idea off the table until the team is ready to move to the next phase of actually vetting the various options.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: When in the midst of ideating with your team, ask open-ended questions to deepen the conversation and keep it moving. Open questions are much more powerful than ones that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Consider the impact of asking “What else can we imagine?” or “How might we approach that?,” versus a closed question like “Do you think we can do that?”.
  • Integrate Games and Activities: To stimulate ideas during team discussions, consider incorporating warm-up games or creative exercises. This will provide some structure for brainstorming and problem-solving, while infusing group gatherings with laughter and increased energy.
  • Give Employees the Time to Innovate Individually: Group ideation is important, but it is not the only place where innovative ideas can emerge. Consider designating a specific amount of time each week or month for employees to work individually on something novel and innovative. If this time is set aside on the schedule, team members are more likely to take advantage of it.

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