Lots of companies say they want to be innovative, but too many of them don’t back it up with the right behaviors. Telling the world you’re an innovative organization doesn’t make it so. And just because you’re hiring creative people, coming up with clever ads, and encouraging your team to wear flip-fops to meetings doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it right. 

Breeding innovation takes more than just lip service. It takes commitment, an open mind, and a decent amount of risk tolerance. To be successful, you need to create an environment that encourages new ideas, promotes calculated risk taking, and rewards people who try new things— even when they don’t work as planned.

Looking to foster innovation at your organization? Here are 4 keys to making it happen.

Make time for it

If employees feel crushed by deadlines and projects and aren’t given the time to think creatively, innovation has no space to occur. Make sure your team isn’t so overloaded with tasks that they literally don’t have time to think. Ask about workload issues in your one-on-one meetings, and make creativity part of your company culture. Put fun stuff like games, toys and colored pencils in your breakroom and switch it up regularly. Encourage daily breaks and walk-abouts so staff can step away from their desks and into a new frame of mind.

Reward it

Recognition not only makes employees feel valued, it helps clarify what innovation looks like. Many people assume innovation is about big thoughts and bold strategies, but sometimes little things can make a big difference. Any time you avoid the dreaded “But we’ve always done it that way!” mentality, you’re innovating. Did someone come up with a sleek new spreadsheet, process or template? Call them out for it. Not only will the individual feel valued, everyone will get to see a real example of innovation in action— and an organizational appreciation for it.

Cultivate it

Fear of failure can be crippling for company creativity. This is where innovation goes to die. Truly innovative companies must be comfortable taking risks. If management balks at every idea suggested, employees will quickly get the message that it’s not worth the effort to pitch anything new. Creating a culture of innovation requires all levels of leadership to be very clear about their willingness to take new ideas and run with them. Nurture creative thinking by welcoming it, recognizing it, and most importantly, following through.

Keep at it

Innovation is like science: a constant process of trial and error that often leads to incredible discoveries and advances. When it pays off, celebrate! When things don’t go as planned, take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, but don’t let it stop you in your tracks. Fear didn’t start your company, so don’t let it drive your decisions. Share valuable lessons with your team, and then move on to the next great idea.

Photo by Kay Kim

5 Pillars of Employee-Related Expenses eBook