Success in business takes a short and long-term plan. Immediate issues, like keeping enough cash flow, helps keep the doors open. But long-term strategies for growth are also essential to running a winning business. And business innovation is the key to long term growth. Whether you’re adjusting to market changes or leading the way, consistent and effective business innovation is the key to your company’s future. But innovation (like everything else) takes investment in time and capital. Here are six tips for fostering small business innovation at work and forming a flexible and creative team that won’t put you in the red.
Offer L&D Opportunities
Learning and development (L&D) opportunities are standard business practice for any size business. Hyperspeed technological changes are transforming markets overnight. To anticipate and adapt to these shifts, it’s essential to promote continuing education for your team members. The more your employees expand their skills and experience, the more they bring to their jobs.
So offer L&D opportunities that work. Create a small budget for those who want to attend local events and conferences outside of work. And bring new learning opportunities in-house. Start a series of monthly training seminars on various topics. Invite local entrepreneurs and thought leaders to speak. To promote creative thinking, encourage employees to start book or movie clubs. Or stream documentaries on technology and science and highlight exciting innovations taking place in our world.
Cross-Train Your Team
Effective on-the-job training is more than making workers better at their jobs. It also requires expanding their knowledge base — introducing them to other parts of the production or service process. Broader views make it easier to see how changes in one area affect the entire process. Cross-training employees by shifting their jobs is an easy and cost-effective way to shake things up. Set aside some time each month or once a quarter to shift job titles for the day. Employees will confront new problems and learn to take over for different roles when vacancies occur.
While you’re ensuring your team wields the right tools to get the job done, don’t forget that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Withholding resources like funding, equipment, and time can force your team to innovate around their absence. But resource scarcity can cut both ways. Employees may interpret omission of critical resources as lack of support, which will affect morale. So choose wisely, and communicate your intentions. Be transparent. Explain that the purpose of “doing more with less” is to stimulate creativity, not punish employees. And set clear guidelines for success. If nothing comes of the experiment, then normal resources will kick in. This lessens the pressure of failing. Your team will then view the circumstance as a challenge and not working with less.
Encourage Regular Breaks at Work
It’s a common myth in business that more work equals higher productivity. But research shows the opposite is true. When employees feel performance stress, they tend to work through lunch, skip breaks, or work weekends to catch up. Over time, this raises stress levels and tanks performance. Taking regular breaks at work increases productivity, improves mental well-being, and boosts creativity. When workers can step away for short periods, they return refreshed and more engaged than if they had slogged through.
To help your employees avoid mental fatigue, put in place short breaks throughout the workday. And make lunch breaks mandatory. For a larger shift in the workday, institute the Pomodoro Technique. This popular time management system gained popularity in the ’80s and promoted a cycle of 25-minutes of full focus work followed by a 5-minute break. Productivity boosting techniques like these help reinvigorate your team and boost their creative faculties.
Teach Lateral Thinking
Boost your team’s problem-solving skills by introducing lateral thinking. Psychologist Edward de Bono developed the technique in the late 1960s, and ever since, entrepreneurs, artists, and scholars have used it to generate new ideas. Lateral thinking is a way of breaking out of rigid ways of solving problems (i.e., “vertical thinking.”) and finding innovative solutions.
One way lateral thinking works is by introducing random ideas and objects into your thought process. For example, you could choose a random word (e.g., “nose”) from the dictionary and apply it to an object (e.g., office printer). Combining these two random things could generate the new idea that printers might give off a pleasing aroma when they’re low on ink. Other strategies of lateral thinking include questioning commonplace ideas and designs, reversing processes, and intentionally introducing “wrong” ideas to provoke new perspectives. Teach lateral thinking strategies to your team and watch their problem solving skills take on new dimensions.
Reward Innovative Thinking
The right reward can inspire your employees to be more creative. Extrinsic rewards like gift cards and cash work. But if you have a small budget, try office perks like extra days off, dinner with the boss, or prime parking spots. And intrinsic rewards motivate too. Everyone loves recognition, whether it’s a plaque, certificate, or social media mention. Choose a reward strategy that appeals to both external and internal motivators and that boosts creativity. Quarterly rewards like a “Spa Day” or vacation can help reduce stress and motivate at the same time.
The key to using rewards to motivate creative thinking is to use the reward as an opportunity to highlight the recipient’s efforts. Don’t just call a worker into the office and hand them two tickets to the ballgame. Make a big deal, call a meeting, and recognize individuals for their contributions. While in the meeting acknowledge the reward. But focus mostly on the reason why they’re receiving it. Avoid mentioning the “extra hours” they put in or “dedication to the company.” Instead, point to the creative process around solving the problem. Recognition ceremonies are the perfect time to promote creativity and business innovations at your company.