Where motivation meets creativity is in the experimentation. For a business, having staff that are able to innovate and experiment as part of their job duties fosters the kind of whole-hearted investment leaders desire in their teams. It’s not to say that all your employees will do is to innovate. Of course, there are response duties to be done, but their willingness to do better and to perform more efficiently will increase. This supportive environment changes those participating. “How can I help?” becomes the mantra more often.
And lest we think it’s a one-sided relationship, ask yourself, what are the ways the company is doing to provide ways to be innovative? There does not have to be a quantitative answer to this, but are there ones to point to? Having the expectation fall squarely and only on the employee to bring an “A Game” to each day without much, if any, of an expectation for the organization to perform similarly is not an equation for success. The lopsided nature of this is too often the reality of organizations. Hence the performance management process fraught with PIPs, not leading to vibrant change, but too often leading to separation.
A couple of years ago, a CEO of a 17-million-dollar company with about 250 employees shared with me that he was frustrated with the team around him. “I pay these people to do their best and to bring new ideas to the table. They’re lazy and have become too comfortable. I want to refresh the team.” And while his frustration was real and he needed to have an outlet to share, this CEO needed to expand his view. “If I may, what do you think the organization has in place to foster these creative and innovative opportunities?” At first, the CEO was perplexed by my response. “What do you mean, John? I pay them quite well.”
Therein lies a classic rub – I pay you, therefore, be awesome. While money is a factor, for certain, it does not lead to a straight-line cause and effect for innovation, among other areas. In what ways does the environment lend itself to innovation? How often is creativity a topic in a Weekly 30 meeting? For those EOS adopters, does this area appear in your Level 10 meetings? Without cultivating and caring for innovation as a living being, it will die, often before it ever really gets started.
How often have you hired someone and told them the lies about wanting their creativity? OUCH. But think about it. We source for and bring in new talent that we want to shake things up, to add value to what we’ve already built, to inspire others with fresh ideas…and then we show them a cubicle and tell them, effectually, to assimilate through rigid policy and inflexible workflow process.
What we need to do is foster creativity on both sides of the equation. Start with a few simple ideas:
- Ask – Gather staff and ask them what they need to approach current work more creatively or to develop new ideas more consistently. Some of your best ideas are already there just waiting for permission to share. Set the expectation that not all ideas may be feasible but be prepared to offer a reason why. And if you find yourself saying no to most ideas, the faucet of innovation will dry up quickly. No one wants to hear “no” repeatedly.
- Develop – When you have a couple of ideas to run with, have a few from the team help you to develop them. Consider what resources – time, space, funds, safety – will be needed to make it happen. When you present these details to the team, they get to help decide on application of those resources. This will deepen their buy-in for the overall vision. Yes, it may mean that not everything can be put in place now, but having the team think critically about what matters today drives innovation. They will already be thinking iteratively as a result of considering highest needs.
- Test – Give the team space to test out their ideas. Being creative does not mean that success happens at every try. Failure is a teacher. If you can allow for missteps and re-dos, to a degree, then the team is more likely to be free to innovate. Without safety in experimentation, the desire for new ideas and approaches will be replaced by a desire to stay off the radar and to not get into trouble. And that is a limiter to creativity in business.
After that CEO considered our conversation a bit more, he shared the lack of creative environment in the organization as a whole. “I haven’t given permission for teams to be creative. I only ask about what their responsive work is like and how quickly they can get it done. Frankly, I keep saying we’re busy and that means there’s no time for anything else.” He revamped one department at a time to encourage opportunities to ideate. See? People can learn. Not every time, but sometimes…