If you feel your employees aren't coming up with as many innovative ideas as you'd like, you need to take a look at your company's culture and creative work environment. Are you quashing great ideas by ignoring or criticizing them? Or do you nurture employee creativity by encouraging people to take the best approach possible, even if it's untested – thereby fostering a positive environment?
Unless your small business is willing to take smart risks, it won't thrive. Ask yourself the following questions to find out whether your work environment is helping or hindering employee creativity:
- Is authority and responsibility delegated? Not many people can be creative for creativity's sake. Employees need to be empowered before they can start coming up with great ideas. You'll find that even the most unimaginative worker becomes creative when he has a stake in the outcome of a project.
- Are employees aware of the company's vision? To come up with creative ideas, employees need a few guiding principles. Make sure they know your company's vision and keep it in mind when they're developing ideas and solutions.
- Does your team brainstorm regularly? Brainstorming capitalizes on synergy. If you conduct brainstorming sessions properly, your employees should be able to come up with better ideas, working as a group, than they would on their own. If you brainstorm with them, they'll also get a feel for just how far out of the box you want them to think. This assists immensely in fostering a creative work environment.
- Do you venture off site for creative sessions? Sometimes, an office space – no matter how casual it is – can still be stifling. For a change of pace, try venturing off site – a restaurant, park, beach, you name it. You may be surprised at the ideas you or your co-workers come up with in a more relaxed and positive environment.
- Are employees allowed to decorate their workspace? This may seem like a trivial tip, but it does help foster a positive environment where creativity can flow more freely. Freedom in decoration allows your employees to be inspired by what means the most to them. Maybe one person will see a photo of his favourite getaway place and feel a sense of calm in a stressful situation. Or maybe someone else works best when surrounded by plants and flowers. As long as decorations are appropriate and don't negatively impact day-to-day business, allow a little leeway and let your employees add personality to their workspaces.
Perhaps the most important aspect of risk-taking – the factor with the most profound long-term implications in fostering a creative work environment – is the way a manager treats a new idea once it's implemented. An old adage says that while success has many parents, failure is an orphan. Effective managers don't abandon employees who suggest ideas that don't pan out. Nor do they take full credit if the idea proves successful. Instead, they reflect collectively, talking candidly and supportively with their team. What worked? What needs to be improved? What factors impacted the idea's implementation? And, most importantly, how can this problem or project be better tackled in the future?
Finally, here's another simple technique that's vastly underused among small businesses: When good managers make a mistake, they openly admit it. It's remarkable how motivational it can be for employees to hear bosses concede that they, too, were wrong about something.