Inspiring Your Employees to Innovate

By Jackie Camacho-Ruiz


The only way to develop a successful legacy is to create a culture that can continue. Legacy is not about building a business like a machine and then being able to walk away and leave it chugging along. It is in the language and atmosphere that you build with your employees that allows your business to continue to grow and innovate in a changing world.

There’s no doubt that innovation has lots of air to breathe in Silicon Valley. So, it’s no surprise that it was Google who introduced the concept of “20% time” which asked employees to put down their workload and spend 20% of their workweek pursuing new concepts of their own. Microsoft has “The Garage,” which allows employees to build their own projects with Microsoft’s resources and LinkedIn has InCubator. These types of programs can be draws for creative talent AND can potentially launch the companies into exciting new territories.

But those are multi-billion dollar companies. Can their innovation philosophies translate to the rest of us?

Absolutely, and it doesn’t have to cost a penny! There are plenty of tactics to try, but keep in mind, innovation thrives in a conducive culture. That doesn’t change overnight. If employees report to managers and managers report to the top, and everyone is just trying to keep their nose clean and run the machine that’s in place, it’s going to take a shift starting with the foundation.

The owner/CEO/head honcho is used to dispensing information. His or her ears might not be used to listening. This is easily remedied. Start asking questions. Set your ego aside. Make it clear that you sincerely want to hear feedback—even problems—and possible solutions. Have any of your employees been sitting on a new idea—or maybe talking about it with each other but have not felt free to share it up the ladder? FIND OUT!

This little shift could be an eye-opener. It could spell change. It could mean getting rid of some systems that have been in place for a LONG TIME. Take a deep breath and tell yourself that if Mark Zuckerberg lets untested features roll out on Facebook all the time, you can take a risk or two.

Next, take a look at the people who work with you. What would happen if you grouped and paired and opened up conversations where they put their heads together? (What about putting a veteran and a fresh new hire together on a project…?) What could they learn from each other? How could you facilitate that?

It’s a fine line between prescribing innovation and encouraging it. But either way, you do have to make time for it. Face to face is best. Can you have groups meet once a week or even once a month? (If not, there is plenty of technology to bridge the geographic divides.) Ask one of your managers to present a topic, whether it be a challenge or new idea. Open it up to discussion and pave the way for other issues that may arise.

Ok, ok. It’s not easy to coordinate schedules and meet very often. Lay down an “article” challenge. There is so much valuable information flying all over. Have your employees reach out and catch some of the good stuff to disseminate to everyone else. Is there a hot trend or new development in your arena? Assign a topic for the week. Whoever wrangles the best article gets a free lunch.

This falls under the heading “education”–because education and innovation are like two peas in a pod. Being exposed to new information and ideas will inspire new ideas. You are not the sole source of education for your company. In fact, you need to get out there and learn too. You and your managers should be hearing speakers (even if they’re Ted Talks on You Tube), attending workshops, panels and other forums in your community.

This nugget by Glen Lopis from Forbes can help get the ball rolling: “Your legacy grows with each new experience, with each previously untested idea and bold ideal that you are courageous enough to deploy, and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition.”

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