4 Ways to Encourage Innovation From Within

Author: Christina Galoozis Date: April 25, 2011

Small Business LeadershipYou can’t think of everything, so why try? Ask your employees to help discover customer service improvements, new products and efficiencies for your small business. After all, some of the best ideas come can from the trenches.

To encourage innovation among your staff, consider these four strategies.

Create a culture of innovation

Create an environment where employees can share ideas—even bad ones. “Even bad ideas can be good ideas at a different time, or can the basis for a great idea,” says Holly Landau, a partner of The Shift Group, a New York City firm that helps small businesses discover ways to innovate. That means having ground rules at team meetings, such as “everyone listens” and “no eye-rolling.” And making sure you and your managers have an open-door policy for new ideas. And having rewards in place, like sharing in the profits or savings from a new innovation.

Hold regular “innovation” meetings

Each month (or quarter), ask employees to arrive with three ideas on a specific topic—customer service improvements or new ways to incorporate technology, for instance. Make the ideas anonymous by using Post-it notes and sticking them on one board. Flesh out the ideas together. “Business owners and leaders can do themselves a favor by sometimes staying out of the room,” as some workers feel more comfortable with their peers, Landau says. Remember: Give employees enough lead time on the topic. Innovations take time to drum up.

Build an innovation team

Create a four- or five-person team that fields innovation ideas from employees. Include one person from each department so everything from hiring to technology can be considered. And try to make the group as diverse as possible—across generations, tenure, seniority level and so forth. Rotate employees periodically. This model, says Landau, can take the burden of innovation off management and give a sense of ownership to employees.

Make innovation a core competency

Make innovation part of employees’ jobs so everyone is expected to be an innovative thinker. When evaluating their performance, consider how many new ideas they brought to the table or whether they volunteered to flesh out a new idea. “Some call it ‘continuous improvement,’ but it’s really it’s the idea that you can empower and engage employees,” Landau says.

It’s important, too, to put some of these ideas in action. Employees feel validated when they see their ideas not only considered, but accepted. “Be humble enough to recognize that just because you’re the owner doesn’t mean you have all the answers,” Landau says.  

Next: Listen to the Small Business Innovation Podcast

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