Would you describe your own team as creative? Do your employees help set industry trends, or do they just follow them?
With everyone focused intently on the day-to-day aspects of their jobs, your staff simply may not be thinking about developing new ideas or recommendations. As a leader, you can change that by setting the stage for business innovation and, in doing so, help your company gain a competitive advantage.
The following are six steps that can make that difference:
Talk about company issues – The more people understand your firm’s strategies and challenges, the easier it will be for them to think of inventive ways to help.
Discuss emerging priorities, such as plans to expand or alter competitive tactics, so staff are aware of business needs. You might even point out areas where you feel your employees would be able to offer solutions, so they are spurred to think creatively. This will your employees will feel more invested in their work because they helped to direct it.
Encourage risk taking – Make sure you’re not stifling new ideas by halting them at the first signs of trouble.
Despite the best work a software application may be buggier than anticipated or a new tech vendor may provide disappointing service, for instance. Keep in mind that often it’s the revision to a proposal that yields the winning result, so treat failure as a learning experience. Allow people to try refining their efforts, and be there for guidance and support.
If you truly want employees to be innovative, they need to know there won’t be negative career repercussions if the outcome of their proposal is less than perfect. Applaud those who take well-planned risks in the first place.
If you can’t implement a recommendation, take the time to explain why so the person — indeed, the entire team — knows you gave it careful thought (on the flip-side, make sure you do actually give the proposal serious thought … people can tell the difference). This will encourage your staff to continue thinking creatively and sharing ideas.
Give people a say in the outcome – Ask employees for their input on projects from the beginning; when planning and brainstorming are just kicking off. People want to be actively involved in defining the tasks they work on and this is an easy way to encourage innovation.
Provide ongoing education – Remember, too, that if you want your staff to be creative, they need to have the proper skill sets. So continually invest in building your team’s knowledge and abilities, whether through classes, seminars, online training, mentoring or other programs. This is especially critical in IT, where expertise can quickly become outdated without professional development.
Consider asking your staff what types of training they’d like to pursue. Keep an open mind if their requests involve emerging technologies your firm has not yet implemented. There may not be a clear use for the expertise today, but it could prove useful in the coming months and years.
Training may encourage your employees to take a fresh look at the way they do their jobs. In fact, they may even have coursework that requires them to develop inventive solutions to challenges at work.
Reduce stress – Also recognize that if your employees are over-loaded with projects and clocking lots of overtime, the last thing they will be is innovative.
Be sure you’re doing all you can to prevent burnout on your team. Stay on top of workloads to ensure they’re manageable, and reassign tasks or bring in additional resources when they’re not.
Also encourage your staff to use their vacation days. People usually return from breaks with renewed energy, which can spark innovation.
Keep the lines of communication open – Think about how easy it truly is for employees to share their ideas with you. If there are no simple outlets for giving recommendations, people may not offer them at all.
Consider setting aside time during each staff meeting to discuss ways processes or strategies could be improved. Also encourage members of the group to talk about the challenges they’re facing. A solution may come from an unlikely source.
Innovation offers more to your firm than just a competitive advantage from a creativity standpoint. The steps you take to provide employees with intellectual challenge, training and professional growth can also greatly improve motivation and retention — a big plus as the demand for skilled IT professionals continues to grow.
John Reed is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalftech.