Innovation isn't easy—it requires dedicated time, support from company leaders and often a cost investment—but it can lead to big payoffs. In fact, companies that use collaborative innovation models like design thinking are twice as likely as their peers to see a growth rate of 15 percent or more over the next five years, according to a recent PwC study.
Innovation not only creates value for future customers, but can also help organizations retain top talent, reduce costs over time and stay competitive. The key to great innovation? Your own employees.
"The people within your business know its operations inside out, know the objectives that need to be hit and understand where improvements can be made," says Fred Schebesta, founder and CEO of finder.com, a personal finance comparison website. "This makes those inside a business perfectly placed to drive innovation."
1) Create an Innovative Climate
"It is very difficult to generate high-quality innovation and see it through to implementation," acknowledges Daniel Russell, partner at management consulting company RHR International. Because of this, Russell encourages organizations to first focus on creating a climate that supports innovation—the right climate will help to create a culture of innovation over time.
"Leaders can be a little more optimistic that they can influence how people perceive and interpret the experience they have at work (climate) versus the more amorphous basic assumptions team members have about the world and the values that guide life in organizations (culture)," he explains.
To create a climate of innovation, there are a number of things leaders can do. One tactic Russell advises is providing employees with interesting, stimulating and challenging work, such as giving team members the opportunity to do side projects that may be outside of their daily routine. He suggests setting up a an innovation "garage"—a unique physical or virtual space and a specific time where employees can collaborate on innovative ideas.
2) Assemble Diverse, Inclusive Teams
One of the keys to constructing an innovative climate is encouraging diversity in all forms. That means recruiting teams of people from a variety of business units, educational backgrounds and geographical settings.
"You need to have a diversity of experience at the table," says Joan Michelson, executive producer and host of Green Connections Radio, a podcast that features energy and sustainability innovators. "People who think differently create the kind of friction that generates new ideas."
As employees work together on new ideas, inclusion becomes a crucial piece of the puzzle as well. "Often, people will go into a meeting and think that everyone is in agreement, but really they aren't; they just don't feel safe standing up and saying something," Michelson explains.
For employees to generate and share new ideas, it is important to create an environment where they feel comfortable voicing their opinions, openly commenting on other's viewpoints or disagreeing with ideas.
3) Encourage Creative Thinking
Studies have shown that routines kill creativity. And unfortunately, it's common for people to get stuck in their daily routine at work and put aside creative thinking for another day. To get people out of this habit, Mark Goldin, chief technology officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, encourages people to get away from their everyday jobs by hosting an annual "Hackathon" for employees.
"The Hackathon is a company wide initiative that takes place over a 24-hour period. People from all departments, not just technology and development, work alone or in teams to develop and pitch ideas they think will move the company forward," says Goldin.
The 4th annual Hackathon took place at Cornerstone last month and had only one rule: "You cannot work on activities related to your day job—only new thinking and new ideas allowed," says Goldin.
In years past, the Hackathon has even led to the genesis of new products such as Cornerstone View—an interactive data visualization tool that gives unique insights into your talent data. While not every Hackathon will lead to a brand new product, the initiative promises to excite employees about solving complex problems, embracing new ideas and thinking outside of the box.