Creativity is something that is often misunderstood, particularly in the workplace. Companies in the creative industries—advertising, publishing, and so on—tend to embrace the notion that creative thinking is essential to success. However, in organizations that fall into more conservative industries, creativity is sometimes overlooked.
Even if you think your job isn’t a creative one, fostering a creative work environment is a must if you want your employees to perform to the best of their abilities. It’s not enough to say you want them to be creative. You must model and encourage creativity if you want to reap the benefits. Here’s what you can do.
Unlock the Door to Creativity with a Contest
The first thing you can try, especially if you have not been actively encouraging creativity up until this point, is to find a way to signal your employees that things are changing. For example, you might announce a contest or incentive program for employees who come up with creative, new ways to do their jobs. Not every job or task will lend itself to creative redesign, but many will. We all have a tendency to get stuck in our ways.
Change doesn’t come easily to any of us, but there are ways to encourage it. When you empower employees to suggest changes, you give their creativity free reign. It is very likely that you’ll see some interesting and useful ideas as a result.
Demonstrate Creative and Open Thinking
Employees look to their leaders for guidance. If they see that you reject creativity and punish people who think outside the box, they are going to be extremely reluctant to come forward with new ideas and innovations. On the other hand, if you remain open and seek out new ideas, they will know they can come to you with their thoughts and suggestions.
One of the best ways to demonstrate creativity is to refrain from making quick decisions unless time is of the essence. Instead, take the time to solicit opinions from your colleagues and employees and really listen to what they have to say. Take notes, and if you feel yourself instinctively wanting to resist a suggestion, give yourself some time to sit with it instead.
When you hold off on your decision and give yourself time to absorb your options, you are far more likely to embrace a creative or innovative solution than you would be otherwise. Human beings are naturally resistant to change, but you don’t have to be stuck in a rut. Show your employees that you are willing to consider new ideas, and they’ll reward you by putting their creativity to work for you.
Do your employees take risks, or do they keep their heads down and toe the line? There’s something to be said for dedication and hard work, but if all your employees do is follow orders and play by the rules, you may be missing out on some very good ideas as a result.
Encouraging risk-taking might feel like a risk in and of itself, and that’s understandable. When you try new things, there is always a chance you will fail. However, the fact remains that the world is always changing. In our increasingly global economy, companies that are able to adapt and grow are far more likely to survive than those that remain the same. Customers have a lot of choices when it comes to the businesses they frequent, and one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from the competition is to encourage creativity.
A good way to mitigate your fears about creative risk-taking is to put some parameters in place to guide employees along the way. For example, you might allow employees to spend a certain amount of money to try something new, or you might require them to do in-house beta testing before trying a new idea on a client. The specifics will depend on your business and your tolerance for risk, but sometimes providing boundaries allows creativity to thrive.
The other thing to keep in mind with risk-taking is that you must manage your own reactions to failures if you want employees to continue to innovate. If you get angry when a new idea doesn’t perform up to expectations, employees are going to be unwilling to try anything new in the future. Find a way to accept failure as a necessary part of growth.
Finally, find ways to get employees to talk to one another about their jobs and the problems they face and make it easy for them to collaborate with one another. Some companies encourage collaboration by organizing employees into innovation teams for brainstorming sessions. Others have regular company-wide events, such as lunches or happy hours, to get employees together.
The way you set up your work space can have an effect on collaboration, too. If your employees sit in cubicles with high walls, they can’t see or hear one another while they’re working. An open work space makes it natural for employees to talk to one another about issues they’re facing, and to collaborate on new ideas.
Depending on the nature of your business and how big your company is, you may want to put people from different departments together or split the events into small groups to make them more manageable.
If you use these four techniques, you will find your work environment transformed into a place that embraces creativity, and you’ll see the results in your bottom line as well as in the morale and commitment of your employees.