Innovation is one of the most important factors for sustainable growth. Innovative or die. Businesses know that, but it's not that simple to turn the wheel of innovation in any established business.

Business processes are difficult to change, especially when you can't predict the outcome of change. You can understand why it's so hard for business leaders to make decisions on what processes to change to take advantage of the many benefits of innovation. 

You've probably heard of a few corporate dinosaurs who failed to innovate, were inevitably disrupted, and eventually became extinct. In the ever changing business environment, that can happen to even small businesses.

Innovation has enormous benefits, if done right. But it's too big a risk for many companies. That's why it's really difficult to involve most employees in the innovation process.

There's a huge disconnect on the subject of innovation between leaders and lower-level employees, according to a global survey conducted by Harvard Business Review. Almost 3,500 people from companies in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, and India were surveyed.  

This was clear after the survey:

"While nearly nine in ten non-managers strongly believe they ought to be involved in innovation, far fewer (roughly six in ten) say they actually are. We saw this at small as well as large companies and among all age groups (Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials)." 

When employees feel their voices are not being heard, or they are not involved in the decision making process, they are likely to stop caring. Many of them will decide to do just what they are told, instead of taking active roles in coming up with new ideas to help their companies grow. When that happens, work becomes a chore. And people refuse to contribute because they don't have the support of their managers and superiors. 

Here is what your business can do to create and encourage a culture of innovation

Put innovation at the heart of business strategy

Innovation is the only path to sustainable growth over a long period of time. You can't win with the same product or service all the time. Change is inevitable. Innovation can only thrive in a culture that makes it easy for employees to contribute to business growth. Recognize innovation in every part of your company and everyone should have a role to play.

It's difficult to encourage employees to take risks, no matter how smart or calculated they may be, because things can go wrong. And businesses want stability. But when you understand the difference between risk and recklessness, you will know when to allow employees to experiment and risk failure and to what extend to limit negative impact on your business. 

Challenge your employees to find new, better and smarter ways to get things done

You can start by making innovation a job prerequisite. One of the most important steps you can take to repeatedly implement great ideas and solutions is to make it clear to employees that within a certain limit, they are allowed to come up with new ideas. 

Start listening to your employees. They need to be engaged. Their ideas must be valued and opinions heard. When people are valued for their ideas, they tend to give off their best. Employees who are closest to your customers see opportunities for innovation most of the time. Solicit their feedback on areas that need improvement. 

Give employees the moral and material backing 

Thinking processes vary among employees but when given the right support, people can commit to improving how they come up with new and innovative ideas. You can't be the same great company in the next ten years, if you don't take innovation seriously. Give employees quality time to think to repeatedly find and implement great ideas and solutions.

Great innovators are good at making connections between seemingly unrelated problems and ideas. Take a genuine interest in the personal development of your employees. Provide training and courses that make it easier for them to connect ideas better. 

And don't ask for new ideas when you know they will all be shelved. Communicate with people about why only some ideas are being considered or implemented. If the timing is not right, make it clear. If resources are limited, tell them. Communicating with people reinforces trust, respect and appreciation and encourages a lot more ideas in the future.  

Published on: Aug 1, 2016