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9 strategies for unleashing employees’ creativity

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

True or false: Employees are either creative or they’re not—creativity isn’t a skill you can teach.

The answer: False. Some employees are more naturally creative than others. But managers can play a key role in creating an environment in which employees will want to look for new ideas.

It’s important for managers to let employees know that initiative and innovation are valued and that people who question will be rewarded—not labeled as troublemakers.

Here are nine tips for removing barriers to employee creativity:

1. Encourage employees to think for themselves. Make it clear that you welcome new ideas and constructive criticism. Let them know the only way the organization will stay competitive is to question methods, change and move forward. Tell employees to always ask themselves, “How could we do it better?”

2. Don’t lock into “procedure.” Employees may hear that word to mean, “That’s how it’s always been done, so don’t rock the boat.” Encourage employees to ask why procedures exist, to look for flaws in them and suggest improvements.

3. Encourage individual flexibility. When possible, let employees find their own ways of getting things done. Avoid giving detailed instructions, but be available to answer questions. Try to give every employee at least some work that requires creative thought.

4. Use downtime as thought time. When an employee has time for extra work, set the person to ponder a problem that’s on your mind and ask him or her to prepare a proposal.

Use breaks and lunch as a time for kicking ideas around. Take one or two employees to lunch occasionally and pick their brains.

5. Create a risk-free, idea-generating environment. Hold regular brainstorming sessions. Forbid criticism of ideas; simply record them as they’re made. Avoid stating your own opinions so you don’t dissuade those who disagree with you.

6. Insist on solutions. Encourage complaints and critiques, but make clear that anyone who submits a critique should also be ready to propose a well-reasoned solution as well.

7. Be wary of contests. “Best idea” contests often keep employees from working together on ideas, and they can lead to intrigue.

8. Feed creativity. Creative people respond well to certain types of rewards. Some ways to reward an employee for a good idea include:

  • Put the employee in charge of a special project.
  • Let workers implement their ideas.
  • Provide more resources with which to pursue his or her ideas.
  • Pour on the public recognition.

9. Reward ideas even if you don’t use them. Avoid saying “no” right away, no matter how bad an employee’s suggestion may be. Keep the “why nots” to yourself and look for parts of the idea that could work. Then thank the employee for the suggestion. Then, if you do use any piece of an employee’s suggestion, praise him or her publicly.


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