How to Boost Workplace Creativity

Forget the suggestion box. Take these steps to watch your employees innovate consistently.
CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
May 10, 2012

Have you ever worked at a big corporation? If so, you’re probably familiar with the infamous “suggestion box”—that anonymous place where employees are supposed to submit ideas that never get read (or, if they are read, are never acted on). Or perhaps you recall the cautionary tale of the poor sap who came up with an idea that saved the big company millions, only to be rewarded with nothing more than an acrylic plaque.

It’s easy to scoff about big businesses giving lip service to employee innovation, but unfortunately many small businesses aren’t much better at truly encouraging innovation among their employees. Sure, at the outset of an innovation initiative, you may be able to get your team excited, but if their ideas and efforts consistently go ignored, unused or unrewarded, that thrill is likely to fade pretty fast.

So how can you really inspire your employees to innovate on a consistent basis? Here are three simple steps:

1. Make innovation part of your employees’ official roles. Innovation is sparked when you get many people from different parts of the company involved. But the commitment to innovation is going to differ if some people are pulled in only occasionally for meetings while others are put in charge of sustained innovation efforts. If you truly want innovation to be part of “everyone’s job,” then add it to each job description and treat it with the same weight as you do the person’s other duties.

2. Consider innovation in employee reviews. Too often, employee reviews are based on the status quo. You check off boxes regarding how well employees fit in, punch the time clock and complete a certain number of tasks. While it’s important to measure these things, you also need to make innovation part of reviews. That means crediting employees not only for the ideas that pan out, but also for the volume of ideas, their willingness to try new things, how much they inspire others to innovate—the list goes on. Innovation is messy and can be hard to quantify, but it still needs to get considered in evaluations.

3. Tie innovation to pay or bonuses. There are many ways to reward employees whose ideas get implemented. These can range from time off with pay, to gift certificates, cash and profit-sharing plans. (Hint: Stay away from acrylic plaques.) The option you choose will be based on your business’s size and profitability, of course, as well as on the magnitude of the innovation. A game-changing idea that launches a whole new division or product line obviously deserves a bigger reward than a tweak to your order processing system that saves $10,000 annually. When employees see innovation by others directly rewarded in a worthwhile fashion, it inspires them to follow suit.

Your employees won’t take your company’s innovation efforts seriously unless you do. As the boss, making innovation part of job duties, reviews and compensation is the best way to show that you’re serious.

How do you encourage innovation among your employees?