A 2010 study of 1,500 CEOs indicated that leaders rank creativity as the No. 1 leadership attribute needed for prosperity. Companies must seek out individuals who challenge the status quo and contribute groundbreaking ideas in order to survive in today’s fast-paced and increasingly complex business environment. Just as importantly, the must establish a culture of innovation to foster those ideas and bring them to fruition. Companies with a culture of innovation adapt repeatedly to stay ahead of the competition. They develop creativity at all levels of their organizations, and develop new ideas to tackle problems large and small.
But how do you build a culture of innovation??
1) Hire the right people
During the interview process, don’t limit yourself to asking questions about a candidate’s specific experiences or skills. In addition to determining if the candidate is a good fit for the job, it is important to make sure that the candidate will also fit in with the company. Be sure to ask questions about the company’s values. If you are fostering a culture of innovation, then innovation should be one of the company’s top values. Ask the candidate to give an example of a time he or she was innovative in solving a problem.
2) Put them in the right jobs
In addition to hiring the right people, it is important to hire them for the right jobs. The quickest way to stifle creativity is by putting people in jobs that don’t incite their passion. Look for ways to give employees ways to follow their interests and express their talents. Provide opportunities for employees to take on additional responsibilities to accomplish organizational goals. Allow employees to gain exposure to other departments and learn how they function.
3) Meet people’s needs
Managers should always meet with employees and ask them what they need to accomplish their best work. Some people may be motivated by challenge, while others by appreciation. Some people may like quiet working conditions, while others appreciate noise. The more people are worrying about their unmet needs, the less time they will have for developing creative ideas and attacking problems.
4) Make work meaningful
To be truly motivated, we have to believe that our work really matters. Everyone needs to feel like they are working for some larger purpose. To create this sense of purpose, a leader should define a mission that transcends each individual’s self-interest. For example, at iCIMS, it is our mission is to be the top provider of HR software for small and mid-sized businesses. Our client, Whole Foods, was founded with the goal of becoming the world's leading natural and organic foods supermarket retailer. By establishing an important purpose, you will incite passion within your team.
5) Encourage autonomy
Autonomy means ” independence or freedom, as of the will or one's actions.” Give your employees challenges, but give them freedom in how they accomplish them. Define what success looks like and hold people accountable to metrics, but let people design their days as they see fit to achieve those outcomes. By micromanaging or hand holding, you will only stifle your employees’ creativity. An employee who has to run every detail by his or her boss for approval will lack motivation to contribute in innovative ways.
6) Encourage people to ask questions
People need to be aware of an organization’s processes to improve them, and aware of challenges in order to solve them. Encourage employees to ask questions about what your company has done in the past, as well as what your company is doing today. Encourage them to look for contrarian ideas and insights.
You should also encourage your employees to provide feedback. By reaching out to your team and asking them what they think, or if they see any issues arising from the company’s current direction, it will demonstrate to your employees that your company doesn’t want to simply maintain the status quo, and it is open to new ideas to improve the business.
7) Encourage people to explore and take risks
Provide employees with the freedom to take creative risks without a fear of judgment. Experimentation is an absolute essential part of discovery. Of course, many experiments will fail, but it is important to see the value in failure. One of my favorite quotes is by Thomas Edison: “ I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Nearly every innovation in history has come after countless “failures.” Encourage your employees to not fear failure or let it extinguish curiosity, but to keep trying. Eventually, it will pay off.