Is innovation one of your employees' top strengths? It turns out the smaller your company is, the likelier you are to answer no to that question.

This surprising finding comes from a recent survey by Robert Half Management Resources, which asked more than 2,000 CFOs at organizations of all sizes how good those companies were at innovation. Asked how innovative their employees were, only 30 percent of companies with 20 to 49 employees said they were "very innovative." That number increased with company size, and 38 percent of CFOs at companies of 1,000 employees or more said their employees were "very innovative."

What's the problem? It's hard to know for sure, but part of it may be small companies' more intense workloads--if you're struggling to get everything you need done in a workday, it's hard to stop and explore new ideas. But whatever the reason, creating a culture where creativity flourishes should be a priority for every company, large and especially small. Here are some suggestions from Robert Half International senior executive director Paul McDonald to make that happen.

1. Create time for thinking.

Employees who are bogged down in day-to-day tasks may have trouble engaging their imaginative thought processes, he warns. "Managers need to ensure employees have time for creative thinking," he says.

2. Ask for ideas. Often.

Those requests should go directly from you to your employees; they shouldn't be filtered through managers, McDonald adds. "If you do this regularly, you'll show how much you value their feedback and also prompt them to develop suggestions in preparation for their discussions with you."

3. Shake things up.

Breaking up people's routines is a great way to engage their creativity. "Don't be afraid to force people out of their comfort zones," McDonald says. "You can try assigning individuals to interdepartmental task forces, offering training in different areas, and pairing off staff members with a mentor from some other part of the company."

4. Think small.

"Some managers and employees may think innovation must be a grand concept or needs to involve huge technological discoveries," McDonald says. The problem with this approach is that it can be intimidating. And it's completely unnecessary. Some of the best innovations are small iterations that can make a big difference to cost or customer satisfaction. "Process enhancements, for example, are highly valuable," he says.

5. Include everyone.

"Being creative isn't confined to a specific set of professions--everyone can and should be innovative," McDonald says. "For example, financial professionals can identify new ways to accelerate the close process or use data to pinpoint new growth opportunities." So make sure to ask all employees--not just the traditionally creative or technically innovative professionals--for their ideas.

"One advantage small companies enjoy is less bureaucracy," he adds. "Staff members from all levels can more easily have their voices heard. Use this to your advantage."

6. Make your workplace fun.

"When people enjoy where they work, they're more motivated to think of new ideas," McDonald says. Just as important, creative and intelligent employees likely have many choices of other places to work. If your environment is fun, they'll be more likely to stick around.

7. If you use an idea, make a big deal about it.

Follow up and celebrate with both that individual and the whole team, McDonald advises. "You'll reinforce the value you place on creativity and your appreciation for staff members' input."

8. Provide more resources.

"Offering a robust number of resources to help foster innovation is a key takeaway for small companies," McDonald says. That means exposing employees to people and ideas from other departments or even outside the company. "Larger organizations reported that they were more likely to offer interdepartmental cross-training opportunities and bring in consultants to give fresh perspectives. These strategies let staff learn from people who have different backgrounds, and aren't encumbered by the status quo."

 

Published on: Feb 10, 2015
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