Fostering a culture of innovation is easy if you run a small business with a handful of employees. You can urge them to share ideas and stage experiments—and personally monitor the results.
But at larger organizations, midlevel managers may not encourage their support staff to innovate. Even if they do, these supervisors may be reluctant to inform senior leaders of experiments that go awry.
Only 26% of adults born after 1982 think their bosses are doing enough to spur innovation, according to a recent Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu study. By giving employees in their 20s the freedom to rethink processes and contribute creative ideas, you can harness their brainpower and generate valuable insight. Here’s how:
√ Dissect abortive attempts at innovation. Rather than disregard failures, gather your team (including your youngest, support-level staffers) and ask with excitement, “What did we learn from this?” Avoid assigning blame; instead, focus on analyzing cause-effect relationships and drove outcomes.
√ Reward creative input. Even if an idea fizzles, praise the employee who proposed it. Ask, “What would you like to work on now?” Express faith in that person’s ability to keep innovating. Emphasize that the employee’s willingness to take a risk has enhanced his or her reputation, not tarnished it.
√ Flatten the hierarchy. You want frontline employees who interact with customers or who are immersed in production processes to feel comfortable voicing their ideas. But if they repeatedly suggest ways to innovate that their manager ignores, it will dissuade them from speaking up.
The solution: Eliminate the “Bozone layer” so that frontline staff can express their ideas directly to top. Use your organization’s intranet as a platform for brainstorming or spend more time in informal gatherings where you solicit input from support personnel.
— Adapted from On Innovation, Terry Jones, Essential Ideas.