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How to Turn Employees into Idea Machines

Think that creativity in business is limited to what goes on in the advertising or marketing departments? Think again. Innovation and fresh ideas are needed in all parts of a company to stay ahead of the competition. Without creativity, you risk having a stagnant organization and a bored workforce.  Innovation and fresh ideas are needed in all parts of a company to stay ahead of the competition. Without creativity, organizations risk becoming stagnant and experiencing a bored workforce.

Creative Characteristics

What do creative companies do that you can do, too?

They keep an open mind. You have to create an atmosphere where employees are empowered to think outside the box and feel comfortable to toss out crazy ideas now and then without fear of ridicule or criticism. This doesn’t mean you must do everything or act immediately, but you have to be willing to at least consider all options and recognize those who come up with innovative ideas.

They minimize restrictions. Companies that work only within strict guidelines and according to unwavering policies can’t support creativity. There is a place for rules, of course, but they shouldn’t be so restrictive that they prevent employees from exercising their own judgment or thinking innovatively in the right circumstances. For instance, creative companies give customer service representatives the parameters within which to calm an angry customer, without requiring them to get their manager’s input or stick to a narrow list of remedies.

They encourage personality. Your employees are individuals, and they should be able to express their personalities to a degree. Allow them to personalize their work area, as long as it’s not offensive to others, and encourage all staff to get to know each other on a personal and professional basis. Ways to accomplish this include:

  • Hosting company social events frequently,
  • Creating an inviting cafeteria space or kitchen that encourages workers to gather together for lunch and during breaks, and
  • Building collaborative workspaces that make it easy for employees to join forces on projects.

They manage for creativity. Typically, managers who display high levels of emotional intelligence — the ability to understand and express their own emotions and those of others — are in the best position to build their team’s creativity. Emotionally intelligent managers create atmospheres infused with encouragement and optimism, providing a springboard for creativity and professional growth.

6 Ways to Amp Up Corporate Imagination

1. Hire it. Assess each candidate’s potential for creative behaviors by asking for examples of innovations they came up with at previous employers.

2. Build it. Create comfortable spaces in your office where employees can get away from their cubicles. Sitting in comfy chairs, enjoying a beautiful view or artwork and just getting a break from the routine are great ways for workers to energize themselves.

3. Reward it. Make sure innovation and creativity are part of what you measure in performance reviews.

4. Redefine it. Let employees know that it’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. A certain amount of failure is to be expected when trying new ideas.

5. Enjoy it. Encourage workers to loosen up and give them the freedom to engage in creative play and brainstorming.

6. Train it. Give managers and supervisors the tools and training they need to encourage employees to be innovative.

The Care and Feeding of Innovative Ideas

Like all changes, bringing a more creative mindset to your workplace starts at the top. Your company leaders need to model the behaviors you want to encourage throughout the organization. Leaders can reinforce or set the stage for broader thinking by asking “What else can we do?” or “Is there another way to approach this?” when discussing new plans.

Once you start generating ideas, pay careful attention to what you do with them. Immediately dismissing ideas or responding “That’s not how we do it here” is the complete opposite of the appropriate reaction. But so is spending time chasing down a harebrained scheme.

The right way to nurture creativity without damaging your business is to apply an objective SWOT analysis to all ideas. That is, strategically review the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Although the original suggestion may not be viable as it was presented, the SWOT analysis will usually facilitate winning ideas.

Asking For It

Start asking for input from all areas of the company on every topic imaginable. Once employees see that their opinions are being listened to on a regular basis, participation is recognized and contributions are rewarded, their creative juices will start flowing and they’ll understand that their roles include being innovators. When that mindset gels throughout the business, there will be no end to the innovations you’ll be able to implement.