Tapping Into Employee Creativity to Grow Your Business

When it comes to innovation for small businesses, employee creativity is an often overlooked resource.

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into recruiting and hiring employees that are smart, resourceful and skilled — but if they’re doing the same things day after day (without having a way to contribute more or differently), you’re simply not making the most of their potential.

Remember, many of your employees know certain aspects of the business better than anyone around them. Why not tap into their knowledge and experience to generate more creative solutions to pressing problems and explore new opportunities for growth?

Here are some suggestions for leveraging employee creativity on behalf of your organization.

1. Aim for a diverse workforce

One approach that’s virtually guaranteed to boost employee creativity involves recruiting and hiring people from different cultures and backgrounds. A team that’s too similar in background is likely to only produce similar ideas and opinions, a dynamic that “can increase the risk of groupthink in your office, making your company’s new offerings stale.”

By contrast, a diverse organization can “create a culture in which established ideas are challenged, helping to improve the output and creativity of a company.”

2. Start by asking, “What if?”

Nudge employees to start thinking differently by posing “What if …?” questions during meetings and informal gatherings:

  • What if we adopted a different approach to customer service?
  • What if we marketed our products or services in a different way?
  • What if we altered the organizational structure to give employees more of a voice in how we run the business?

Asking questions like these — and requesting answers that move the business toward implementation of a different approach — can generate a broad spectrum of fresh ideas.

3. Offer resources to stimulate creativity

It’s up to you and your managers to foster a culture of creativity. Start by giving employees the resources they need to facilitate an unfiltered exchange of ideas.

Set up a whiteboard or sheets of butcher paper in the break room (or a conference room), where employees can simply stop by and jot down a fresh idea. This can have a snowball effect, whereby one employee’s idea can spur other thoughts, building from there into bona fide suggestions worth exploring.

Another strategy is devoting a limited but regularly scheduled period of time each week for a group brainstorming session. Training Journal suggests gathering team members to talk about something they’ve seen in the news or through their social media networks that might prompt a dialogue leading to “wider creative ideas.”

4. Provide an “anonymous” option

Some employees may have great ideas for innovating your product or workplace, but they don’t want to be in the spotlight. You may receive more creative input from your team by providing a way to anonymously submit suggestions and insights. The simplest option is placing suggestion boxes in out-of-the-way corners, so that people can quietly and anonymously offer what may turn out to be A+ ideas.

5. Support breaks during the workday

Innovative ideas aren’t likely to occur while employees are preoccupied with their normal, day-to-day responsibilities. Explore ways to encourage brief breaks in the work schedule, allowing time for walking around, thinking about company-related issues, or attending informal brainstorming sessions.

As Forbes notes, it’s unproductive to “create a culture where your team feels pressured to work nonstop.” By offering breaks, you enable people to “clear their heads and develop new solutions to problems.”

6. Let failure happen

Once employee ideas start to flow in, some will invariably work better than others. If a creative suggestion is implemented but fails to pan out, don’t just shut down the creative process. Instead, “recognize the failure as a pillar of learning,” so the “experience can provide the expertise required for building more resilient businesses.” Recognize that “personally and professionally, failure can build a strong knowledge base and strengthen character.”

Fostering a culture of innovation

Of course, boosting employee creativity won’t count for much if their great ideas don’t get serious consideration and implementation. If you genuinely want innovative employee input, be sure to take action based on these suggestions and let everyone know about the resulting changes. That’s the best way to inspire a culture of innovation, where employee creativity becomes an integral part of the workplace.

Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi
Lee Polevoi is a veteran freelance business writer specializing in exploring the opportunities and challenges facing small businesses in the U.S. today. A former senior writer for Vistage International (a global membership organization of CEOs), Lee regularly produces articles, white papers, blog posts and more for the diverse small business audience.

See all posts by Lee Polevoi
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