Carola is an entrepreneur and freelance writer. She has worked in the business world as administrative support for many years.
In the book Innovations at Work, author Richard Brynteson says that developing new and improved products and services is the key to surviving in today’s competitive business landscape.
In today’s competitive environment, businesses can survive and thrive when managers or owners encourage their employees to share new ideas and innovations to improve the workplace. As a former temp administrative assistant, I have observed many innovations that work - and don't work- on the job.
Barriers to Innovation
Resistance to change
Some people may oppose any innovation because they are uncomfortable doing their job differently and are resistant to any changes – even when the changes are positive. Managers may have to assure Mrs. Stick-in-the-Mud that her concerns about proposed changes to her 1980s working style have been heard before any changes are implemented.
Reluctance to put in the effort required for innovation
Innovation takes extra time and effort. Employees may not be willing to put in the time needed to develop ideas and try them out. They may be stuck in habits and procedures. Apathy is another barrier.
In the book, Leading Change At Work, author Adam Braus says that bureaucracy, tradition, and apathy slow down the ability to change, be innovative, and grow. Managers can overcome employee reluctance by emphasizing the ultimate benefits of their efforts.
Employees' fear of rejection
Employees may fear that their ideas will be meet with harsh judgment or ridicule and hesitate to step forward. They must trust that they can express themselves to management without anyone making fun of them or dismissing their ideas as worthless.
Creating an Idea-Friendly Environment
There are several things managers can do to stimulate new ideas.
Analyze their management style
Before managers can open up their businesses to employee feedback, they need to analyze their own management style. Are they stuck in one way of doing things like the rigid boss Franklin Hart in the movie 9 to 5, or are they ready to accept other points of view? Are they willing to accept direct or indirect criticism of their leadership? Managers must be prepared for the possibility that something that they are doing is not working.
Take advantage of brainstorming opportunities
Managers can use opportunities such as meetings, memos, and face-to-face communication to encourage staff to come forward with their suggestions. The company Intuit, for example, gives their employees time during the workday to work on ideas.
Take action to collect ideas
Deliberate action can be taken to collect ideas and feedback through various means such as suggestion boxes or occasional brainstorming meetings. Training sessions may need to be held for staff to teach them how to submit their ideas in ways that are acceptable to the company leadership.
Allow all employees to submit ideas
Idea submissions should be open to everyone in the organization. For example, Sally may work in customer service, but she should be able to express ideas on all her company’s activities. Her daily discussions with clients may lead to an innovative marketing idea for the company.
Give feedback on ideas
Managers can gently tell their workers with bad or impractical ideas that innovations such as installing an expensive new software system will not work for the organization. Employees should be thanked for their input, and if needed, managers can explain why the employee's ideas were rejected.
Show employees that they are valued
Managers should find ways to show employees that they are valued and appreciated for their contribution to the organization – even Miss Totally-off-the-Wall, whose ideas are downright weird. Positive feedback and an occasional “thank you” can go a long way to building a better working relationship.
If managers want to continue to receive ideas from certain employees, the manager’s response to them should give the impression that the managers are open to future feedback. The employees will feel that their ideas and innovations are valued and will be more inclined to share their thoughts in the future.
Real life is… a perpetual compromise between the ideal and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity.
Offer clear instructions and guidelines
Employers will get better results with their workers if they give their employees a clear picture of what their jobs involve and the company’s expectations instead of just telling their workers what to do. Employees will be more inclined to innovate when they are not stuck in a specific set of procedures. Maybe Jeannie the File Clerk will figure out that getting a new set of filing cabinets will be more time-efficient and easier on her back than keeping records in a pile of cardboard file boxes.
Employers must make sure employees understand the mission statement and goals of the organization so that their ideas fall into those parameters. Innovations must fit the company’s history and culture.
Use tools such as submission forms
Employers can use various tools to help their employees to format and streamline their ideas. For example, a submission form can be created to be used in the suggestion box that provides subtopics such as: technology, job description, customer service, and marketing as well as a general section. Guidelines for idea submissions, when possible, can also help employees to express their ideas.
Dealt with new ideas promptly
A quick word via email or remarks at the employees' desk acknowledging an employee’s input assures the worker that his input is valued. This acknowledgment may spur employees to make more practical suggestions in the future or expand the ideas they have already presented.
Employers should acknowledge and consider ideas, even bad ones. Bad ideas sometimes lead to good ones.
Deal with people who misuse the submission process
Managers may have to warn or discipline people who use the suggestion box to vent their frustrations or make a sick joke. A suggestion that tells workers to toss their computers out the window doesn’t help anyone except the person who chose to vent this way or express her strange sense of humor. This sort of thing wastes everyone’s time and can be upsetting to anyone who has to read nonsense.
Reward people with effective ideas
Research by organizations such as the Madison Performance Group shows that innovators flourish in companies where employees are rewarded for developing ideas that enhance the company's performance. Public recognition in some form makes employees feel valued and more motivated than ever to contribute to their companies in positive ways.
16 Techniques to Encourage Innovation in the Workplace, Start At Best
Use These 14 Strategies to Encourage Employee Innovation, The Young Entrepreneur Council, Small Business Trends
9 Ways Your Company Can Encourage Innovation, Entrepreneur, Ignor Makarov
10 Barriers to Employee Innovation, Forbes, John Hall
© 2013 Carola Finch
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 25, 2015:
For this to happen, the organization needs to develop this culture. It is not just the management job.
Carola Finch (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 12, 2013:
Thanks for your comment.
Parallels on April 12, 2013:
As a business major, I agree with all your points. So crucial for managers to create that environment for employees to really thrive in.