6 Steps to Help Employees Embrace Innovation

You crave innovation, but your employees may dread it. Here's how to help them overcome their fears of the unknown.
May 25, 2012

Nowadays, companies of every size eagerly seek innovation. For small business owners, innovation is the Holy Grail; for their employees, not so much. After all, innovation means change, and change means disrupting the systems and processes with which employees are comfortable. For this reason, getting employees to embrace the results of innovation can be an even bigger challenge than getting them to come up with innovative ideas in the first place.

Resisting change is human nature–otherwise, inertia wouldn’t be a principle of physics. Given that reality, how can you get your employees to wholeheartedly support change? Here are six steps.

1. Accept what they’re feeling. Anxiety about possible job loss or changing roles, doubt that the innovation will work and fear of failing at new tasks are common feelings employees have in response to innovation. Trying to deny or gloss over these concerns will only make things worse. Encourage employees to share what’s worrying them with you. The key words are “with you.” You need to hear what employees are saying—not just let them grouse among themselves.

2. Address their concerns. By learning exactly what your team is worried about, you’ll be able to address each issue in a realistic and specific way, rather than just placating them with “Oh, it’s going to be fine.” For instance, if people are worried the innovation will cause them to work longer hours, you could say, “Yes, we will all be working longer hours at the beginning of the project, but ultimately, this change should result in less work for everyone and actually save us 40 hours per week in production time.

3. Engage everyone. Often, innovation is the result of a handful of people inside a company. To employees who weren’t involved in the concept, it can seem to be a pet project driven by one department or by "the higher-ups." A small team might birth an idea, but it takes a village to bring it to market. Explain how and why each person is necessary to make the innovation work.

4. Communicate clearly. Employees need to fully understand what the innovation is, what bringing it to market will involve and what the ultimate result will be. When there are gaps in that information, employees get nervous and rumors start to spread. (“I heard they’re getting rid of the entire in-house sales team.”) Nip this in the bud by being especially active in talking to—and listening to—your team during the transition phase of your innovation. Clarify gray areas and make sure misinformation isn’t spreading.

5. Pump up morale. A big innovation project is exciting, sure, but with the other emotions involved in change, it can also be draining and stressful. Keep everyone’s eyes on the prize by measuring progress toward the goal and reporting on it regularly. Energize your team in the ways that work for you, whether that’s a Friday afternoon pizza party each week, yoga breaks during stressful moments or compensatory time off.

6. Celebrate results. Reward your team when they meet milestones along the way. When your innovation is complete, take time to publicly acknowledge your team’s accomplishment and the role each individual played in making it all happen.

The steps above shouldn’t stop when your innovation is implemented. Continue to keep employees updated about how the innovation is changing your business in terms of increased sales, more customers or a higher profile in your industry. Keep seeking feedback about ways to make it even better. And keep rewarding employees for their part in its success.

How have your employees handled the change that comes with innovation?

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