The average life-span of companies listed in Standard & Poor’s 500 in 1958 was 61 years. Today, it is less than 18 years, according to a recent research report on corporate longevity by Credit Suisse. That’s a 70% reduction! While many factors contribute to shrinking corporate life cycles, one critical aspect of promoting vitality is a company’s ability and willingness to innovate. Innovation influences corporate vitality more than any other factor. Another study reports that perception of innovation is hugely important to consumers and they are willing to pay more for innovative goods and services. 

Creating an atmosphere for employees to innovate and grow their creative capacity is not just a cultural decision, now it’s a priority for companies hoping to outlast the competition or accepted expectations. Although there have been well-known innovative leaders that single-handedly created disruptive change in their companies and across industries, more often, companies that succeed in this area are deploying a much more integrated approach. They opt to spread innovation principles companywide, empowering and inspiring every employee to contribute their own unique form of creativity.

What you can do to drive innovative culture within your organization?

Specify Where your Workforce Can Innovate

Employees often have a lot on their plate- expectations, and challenges in their role, balancing the needs of their company with those of their family, etc. It might be futile to ask them to think creatively on top of all that. Help your employees by being more specific with your ask. Explain to them that you could use their ideas in these three areas that impact the business: your Product (what you produce or sell), your Process (how you produce or sell it) and your Business Model (how your company is organized and operated). If you frame out these three impacting areas for input, your team will be able to visualize a variety of improved concepts for one or all categories. 

Cultivate an Innovation Friendly Environment 

For innovation to thrive, it needs to be part of organizational culture. 

Candy Van Den Berge is Quality Control Advisor for FedEx Corporation with 25 years’ experience. She says, “If an organization is too prescriptive and too ingrained in their process, innovative ideas cease to be voiced. And frankly, if a business is not open to innovating, they won’t exist much longer.” 

Companies that want to build a legacy in this day and age should welcome communication, questions, and new vantage points. Employees need to feel safe to offer up their ideas without fear of repercussion. Innovative culture means embracing failure as an opportunity to learn or to even stumble upon unexpected solutions. 

Van Den Berge says, “There are exercises you can do with your team to massage their creative muscles and encourage that way of thinking. We’ve given our teams marshmallows, and spaghetti sticks to see which group can build the tallest tower. These events are fun and teach our people how it feels to think creatively. Then they can go back and look for creative opportunities in their departments and roles.”

Give them a Reason

Even in the most supportive company cultures, employees might shy away from offering or supporting new ideas because changing the process could imply more work. New ways of doing things could create a learning curve challenge. It could temporarily take additional work to change out the support structure for old processes. You can increase innovation buy-in for these employees and encourage their contribution by explaining that your company’s questioning culture is rooted in something they can stand for, something bigger than themselves. 

Van Den Berge says, “Sometimes people don’t even know what they want. They just know they want something more. It’s the job of the business to present options and fresh solutions that resonate with the consumer. When we ask “What else?” “What is it missing?” we’re positioning our companies to solve more and bigger problems for people.” 

Build Innovation into Management Processes

Management processes need to incorporate regular data collecting methods from all relevant team members across hierarchies and departments. This starts with maintaining two-way communication and open door policies companywide. Managers should collect input in a variety of ways so every employee has an opportunity to contribute valuable information if they have it, even if they don’t love speaking up in group settings. Email and software like TINYpulse can be good ways of gathering ideas and opinions from the team with optional privacy. Chat software like Slack, make it possible for brainstorming to take place without carving out time for a separate meeting and may easily include remote workers in the brainstorming process. 

Besides working hard to gather data and structure avenues for idea exchange, managers can set the example by coming up with creative ideas and sharing them with the group. Why not praise the collaborative efforts of the team a little more, and deemphasize stiff competition between colleagues. Instead, shift that competitive energy outward to the other players in your marketplace, and inward toward achieving peak personal performance.  

The fact is that no company can afford to stay the same any longer. The world is moving at a faster pace and planning for future adaptation is just part of ensuring survival.

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