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5 Ways to Boost Innovation Without Breaking the Bank

Good news for penny-pinchers: Throwing money at your team can actually make them less innovative.
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Creativity and innovation are often stymied because there just aren’t enough resources.

One of your responsibilities as a pragmatic leader is to make sure you remain within budget while ensuring your team is performing at its peak. You can’t throw every dollar at a project. You can’t get people all the support they would have in an ideal world. The sad truth is that supporting one project often means diverting resources from others.

You have to cut costs, save resources, and keep in step with a budget, all while trying to sponsor creativity and fuel innovation. It’s no easy juggling act.

Here are five strategies that will help you do it.

1. Forget about the bells and whistles

While Google and other tech companies have in-house chefs and ping pong tables, there’s no need to follow suit. You won’t be able to inspire much more creativity or innovation with expensive toys, nice workplace amenities, and other small perks.

In fact, employees may end up taking advantage of all the gifts and, worse, get used to the office luxuries. Too much of a good thing can even demotivate your team. Improving their equipment and adding little perks become the main goal, rather than the work they’re supposed to be doing. This happens all the time.

2. Don’t sew your wallet closed

Leaders often err on the side of too much cost-cutting. Too much belt-tightening can undermine the progress of your most important projects. When people feel they don’t have access to the resources they need to do their job, their enthusiasm will weaken. They may start rethinking whether they really want to stick with you and your agenda. To sustain momentum and move ahead, you have to make sure, as far as possible, that everyone has the tools they need or at least the possibility of attaining them in the future.  

3. Don’t use more resources as a goal

Some leaders tempt teams with the promise of more resources if they can meet certain goals. That’s fine if the team can meet the goals, but it’s a different story entirely if they fail. Then they’re missed their goals, they don’t get their resources, and they end up feeling disappointed and resentful. And they can always argue that the reason they failed is because you didn’t give them enough resources to start with!

4. Educate and listen to the team

During projects, leaders should be very clear about the size of the budget, what’s going where, and why. If your expenditures aren’t transparent, team members may see certain purchases as wasteful or grow aggrieved when their bid for new resources is turned down.

The best way to figure out if your team is happy with their access to shared resources is to simply ask them. You may wish your team could work on vapors, but they can’t. You cannot afford to be insensitive to their needs.

5. Balance the allocation of resources

Don’t vacillate between feast and famine. Find the sweet spot where your team has the resources it needs to move ahead, but isn’t kicking back on your welfare system. Facilitate what they need, and scrutinize what they want. Don’t slam on the breaks and then hit the gas. Find a steady pace.

As a pragmatic leader, you need to make sure your group’s access to organizational resources doesn’t fall below a certain threshold-;from “hungry” to “discouraged.” There is no science here. There are no quantitative metrics. You have to be intuitive and sensitive to your group’s level of motivation and creativity.

Last updated: Oct 31, 2013

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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