Innovation in the workplace is valued in many ways. Businesses that innovate become more efficient and more likely to manufacture products that consumers love, and are always attracting potential employees.

Examples of innovation in the workplace include:

  • Coming up with a more sustainable way to make packaging

  • Designing an environmentally friendly car

  • Creating ideas to make it easier for consumers to navigate a complicated system

The good news for companies is that there are some solid steps they can take to become more innovative.

How to drive workplace innovation in five steps

Business innovation can involve creating a new product or it could be improving existing processes. Whatever the idea, the end goal is to drive company growth by coming up with better solutions to specific problems. Here’s a process to make innovation possible:

The first step to innovating is deciding on the issue(s) that are creating a problem for the organization. Business leaders should sit down and come up with a list of three challenges they feel are hurting the business.

Step 1: Identify the things you need to work on

The issue may be at the production level. For example, the rise of fintech startups in traditional finance. Leaders within legacy banks could see the trend as an opportunity for them to create new digital products to better serve their customers. Or, organizations may look to improve how they conduct business, which involves looking at the manufacturing process, the employee experience, or the customer experience. 

To surface these issues, managers and business leaders should:

  • Sit down and list major issues impacting their business. 

  • Prioritize what to change first.

  • Map out what you plan to do to implement a solution to this problem that is reasonable.

After the planning is completed, leaders will give it to the employees.

Step 2: Engage employees

Since employees are the ones on the front lines making the products and talking to customers, they have the closest view into the company that could be made more efficient. It’s important that you always include their insight when changing the company processes. 

One way companies can do this is through programs that allow employees to surface ideas about how to solve problems we identified in step one. These programs may be company-wide employee innovation challenges or they could be for a short amount of time (lasting a week) or a long amount (lasting a quarter). The key is to engage the entire company and allow those from all departments to give their ideas. It’s also important to do this through a distinct program separate from employees’ day-to-day work because that allows employees to get out of the traditional corporate feedback loop. When the goal is to come up with new ideas, it’s more likely that employees will think outside the box.

Step 3: Brainstorm ideas 

Once a framework or program is set up, employees start coming up with ideas. They work as if they are building startups within the company. Using their own experiences, they should ideate potential solutions to the problems the company has identified.

There are many ways to encourage a positive brainstorming session, including through physical space. Conference rooms allow groups of people to come together and discuss ideas in a private, quiet space. Bonus points if the conference room has whiteboards in order to diagram or map out ideas. The company leaders will then look through the ideas given.

Step 4: Break down the ideas

Once all employee ideas are collected, it’s time for business leaders to sift through them. They should separate the ideas that could feasibly be implemented and provide value to the company, and those that won’t. 

In this process, company leaders will judge the ideas against the earlier criteria they set within step one. This is when the exciting ideas for innovation are identified and moved to the top of the list.

Step 5: Empower your employees with the best ideas

Once the newest, most exciting ideas for innovation are generated, mapped out, and judged, it’s time to put them into action. The employees with the best ideas should be connected to those in the company that can help them implement these ideas. For these teams to succeed, company leaders, from executives to direct managers, need to empower these employees with budget and time (20 percent of their workweek, for example) dedicated to bringing those ideas to life.

Three tips for getting started with your business

Businesses of all sizes can use the framework above to become more innovative. Here are a few more tips that can help along the way:

1. Move into a new space 

Getting out of the business-as-usual office means employees can have an easier time thinking up new ideas. Physical space plays a big part in how employees work, think, and feel. The use of open collaboration areas, comfortable seating, bright colors, whiteboards, and creative art foster collaboration and productivity. Being in a brand-new space, even for a short period of time, can help people think differently and devise new ideas. This is one reason companies of all sizes are increasingly opening business units called innovation labs that are solely dedicated to generating novel ideas. Coworking spaces work great for this!

2. Work with startups 

Many times, business problems can’t be solved just by getting ideas from those who work within the company. Identifying new businesses that are trying to solve these problems is a great opportunity to gain ideas. Companies will often look at startups working in their industry and choose to build something similar, buy from, or partner with these startups to solve their problems.

3. Build market knowledge 

Keeping on top of industry changes shows what problems a business decides to work on. It’s incredibly important for traditional companies to know which new organizations are coming out with products and services that may challenge their business. It’s also important to be aware of what customers want, so businesses can respond to those changes with new products.

Innovation in the workplace may sometimes feel like a wide-open topic but there are proven steps a business can take as long as they commit to the idea that innovation in the workplace is imperative for them to thrive. 

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