How to Innovate at Work: 5 Tips to get Started

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple.

As time goes by, almost everything becomes obsolete or irrelevant. All products and services stand in perennial need of renewal or replacement. Thus, there is a need to innovate or you risk going out of business. Innovating is about making something new, thus altering or renewing. It is not about conjuring something out of thin air. The starting point is usually the status quo or how things are being done now. Innovation should not be a reactive process but part of a long-term strategy for your organization. It is a surefire way to profitable and continued growth in the evolving business landscape. How can you make your organization good at innovation?

Here are 5 tips to get started:

1. Top level commitment

For innovation to happen, there should be commitment from the top management or leaders of the company. C-suite executives need to value new ideas and actively participate in new initiatives to let everyone see their support and commitment towards positive change. People at the top need to ensure that inhibiting bureauracy and blocks are removed so that employees have a safe environment to make bold suggestions and take risk.  The attitudes, personal qualities and skills of leaders make a difference in whether innovation will happen in an organization. While having ideas and encouraging creativity in others is part of a leader’s job, the organization requires direction for a journey towards change if it is to truly innovate. The leader and his fellow board members have to set an example by encouraging change and making resources available for change to happen.

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2. Flexibility in structure

An innovative organization is the opposite of a bureaucratic one. We may probably have worked at companies where there is strong emphasis on hierarchy and status. There are clearly laid out procedures (red tape) to follow and a rule for every eventuality. It is an environment that is stifling for the creative mind and high barriers exist between staff in different areas and even barriers between your boss and yourself. On the other hand, we envy employers who value an “open door” policy and allows employees to participate in some form of decision making. Such a workplace culture balances freedom with order and is capable of responding to changing situations. A flexible organization is willing to try new approaches, even when old ways of doing things are going well for them. When there is continuous improvement to existing policies and processes, employees are able to identify new and efficient ways of getting things done, fostering innovation.

3. Tolerating failure

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough”- Elon Musk, entrepreneur, innovator, investor

Risk and innovation are akin to two sides of a coin. There is risk involved if you wish to innovate. All too often, management goes into overdrive when mistakes are made and this can smother creativity or innovation. Rather than focus on the mistake, leaders should take time to analyse what went wrong during the process and not be quick to assign blame. While taking risks may result in failure, not taking risks is the biggest risks of all and signal the end of growth for your organization.

 4. Having open communication

People want to know what is the most critical factor to making innovation happen. Is it the product? Is it the idea? Is it discipline? None of the above matters more than the power of communication. Leaders need to ensure a good flow of information so that ideas can surface. Most people listen for the sake of responding to the conversation rather than to understand what is being said. Even if there is a wonderful new idea or breakthrough possibility, it will never come into fruition due to miscommunication or lack of communication. Not only do managers have to give instructions, but they have to ensure that what they say is understood by those executing the tasks. Managers need to place emphasis on communicating clearly and respectfully within and between departments when it comes to leading new initiatives.

 5. Encouraging teamwork

As John Maxwell said it, “Teamwork makes the dream work”.

Many organisations fail at innovation, because leaders at the top do not understand that innovation is a process and the talents required at each level are different. This means that in order for innovation to be successful, it is a teamwork process rather than an individual’s ability. Managers need to assemble a great team by identifying the right talents, encouraging and gaining their full support in working through the innovation process. Progress can only happen when employees share ideas and collaborate to turn those ideas into reality.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?

Let us know in the comments and please share this post with a friend/colleague if you enjoyed it! 

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