Volume 10, Number 7
Steps for Encouraging Employee Creativity
Govendo is president of the Innovative Edge, Inc.
He is a project consultant, group facilitator, trainer and
conference designer. www.innov-edge.com
want to promote a more idea-receptive environment; but most
don’t know how to do it. More
than ever, the need for continuous innovation – in developing
new products and services, re-designing work processes,
communicating with external and internal customers, and more –
is seen as a key to survival.
stereotypic image of creativity is the lone inventor or artist
dreaming up a new technology or masterpiece on canvas, most
creative thinking is done in groups, where each individual can tap
into both his/her own imagination, and that of others.
It’s what the term synergy really represents.
But, as surely as the group dynamic can exponentially
increase the creative energy and output, it also has the power to
quash it. Those who
roll their eyes when asked to participate in a brainstorming
session have undoubtedly experienced this.
Engaging in a true creative session can be exhilarating;
however, when the session is filled with value judgments,
selective acceptance of ideas and lack of open-mindedness to new
thinking, it can be downright depressing.
Here are six ways
in which executives and managers can actively support and
encourage creative thinking and innovation:
Create a safe haven for new thinking.
Use a safe haven
to encourage a broad range of ideas, including those not
immediately seen as feasible, or even “sensible,” for they are
where the seeds of innovation can be found.
Above all, people
must feel safe in pushing the envelope.
New or unfamiliar ideas are almost surely “wrong” in
their first iteration. They
should be considered starting points on which to build and
encourage further thinking. An
immediate negative evaluation of the idea (however warranted) will
kill it, along with any desire on the employee’s part to offer
leaders should convey an openness to ideas that are imprecise,
untested or even fanciful.
organizations have “creative-thinking spaces,” filled with
items such as paintings, photographs, non-work related magazines,
building materials and other stimuli, where employees can engage
in idea generation in an environment separate from their everyday
organizations have ideation rooms, with sofas, comfortable chairs
and wall-to-wall flipcharts for capturing ideas.
In addition, it is possible to incorporate mechanisms for
stimulating, capturing and building upon ideas on an ongoing
basis. An excellent
tool for this is a software program, Thoughtpath (www.thoughtpath.com),
which combines creative-thinking techniques and a problem-solving
approach in an easy-to-follow format that can be networked among
The key factor,
of course, is neither the physical nor virtual environment;
rather, it is an attitude by management that values the inherent
creativity of employees and envisions the long-term strategic
benefits of empowering them to exercise their imaginations.
Employ a process for developing
new ideas that have been offered.
This is every bit
as important as stimulating creative thinking in the first place.
It is, in effect, what moves an intriguing new idea into
the realm of innovative concept.
Such a process is the Open-minded Evaluation and
Development procedure (Innovative
Leader Volume 8, Issue 9, #422)
outlining five steps to encourage receptivity to a new idea, while
systematically re-working those parts that require change to make
the concept feasible. Without
a vehicle such as this, along with an awareness by employees that
it will be used to explore some of their ideas, there is little
point in encouraging “out of the box” thinking.
Creative ideation can be fun, but it gets old quickly if
the ideas never go anywhere.
Cross-pollinate ideation groups.
works best when there are differences in perspective, knowledge
and background. Ideally,
a team attempting to come up with a fresh, new solution to a tough
challenge should consist of both experts in the area being
discussed, as well as so-called “naïve” idea-contributors who
may see the problem in ways the experts cannot.
Also, because they’re not experts, they don’t know what doesn’t work!
such outsiders into your sessions may pose problems of a practical
or proprietary nature, there are still plenty of internal
resources to draw upon. What
does an account executive have to say about a technical subject?
An engineer about marketing approaches?
A line worker about company strategy?
Creativity is a product of organizational diversity, and
even the smallest companies have that.
Use it to your advantage.
Have a neutral facilitator conduct ideation sessions.
There are a
thousand different ways for people to put down each other’s
ideas. Some are
blatant (“It’ll never work,”
“Been there, done that…”).
Others are more subtle (a roll of the eyes, refusal to
acknowledge an idea), often committed without awareness or intent.
Either way, the effects are the same: potentially
groundbreaking ideas are lost, and so too are those offering the
thinking, in the context of a “get it right” corporate
environment, is risky business.
A good facilitator will not only keep the process moving
along, but will also protect ideas and the people who offer them,
two of your company’s greatest assets.
Support employees for engaging in the process.
It is important
to recognize the efforts of those who contribute to the process of
generating and developing ideas, even if no applicable concept or
solution is produced. Properly
encouraged, these individuals are more likely to engage in the
creative process again, perhaps coming up with the next big
involvement needn’t be difficult nor complicated.
It may only entail giving people the time (company time,
not their own) to periodically take part in a two- to three-hour
ideation session. Given a conducive climate (see nos. 1 & 4),
most employees enjoy the opportunity to exercise their creative
muscles. It is a side
of them they may not often get to express, so it tends to be
more, there is a definite practice effect; the more people do it,
the more comfortable they become, and as a result, the greater the
potential for coming up with innovative solutions.
This is not to
suggest that every concept developed will necessarily be
implemented – far from it.
It does mean, however, that whatever steps are needed to
take it to the next level of possible implementation be
specifically stated along with assignments and timetables.
If a group has
come up with a potential innovation, you could “lose” it
through failure to take immediate action.
Another reason for rapid action is that it will overcome
the common scenario in which somebody wonders, weeks or months
later, “Whatever happened to that idea we were working on
…?” Again, the
entertainment value of pure creative thinking is short-lived; task
groups want something to show for their efforts, even if the
concept they were envisioning cannot be fully realized at the
It is easy in our
digital age, where each new day seems to bring with it an
eye-popping new technology, to lose sight of the organizational
conditions that engender high levels of innovation.
At times it seems as if technology, itself, is responsible
for such progress, but this is not the case.
Rather, it is people – working together in
high-performing collaboration – who reach beyond current
boundaries to come up with new ideas.
Start putting these recommendations in place, and you too
will begin to experience the power of employees’ imaginations!