Remember FarmVille, the Facebook game that it seemed like everybody in the world was playing at one point? At its peak in 2010, the game had over 80 million active monthly users, and its publisher Zynga seemed poised to revolutionize the gaming industry. With other games like Poker and Mafia Wars also earning millions of downloads, by 2011, the company was so popular it had garnered enough funds to build its own $100 million data centers. Unfortunately, the investment in new equipment and new games couldn’t make up for Zynga’s lack of innovation, and by 2015 the company was initiating waves of layoffs and closed down its data centers in favor of more cost-efficient data service. While the company still exists today, it is no longer seen as a trailblazer within its industry.
This is just one example of the detriment that lack of innovation can have on a business, but countless others exist. From Kodak to Blockbuster to Barneys, remaining static as the world continues to evolve around you will inevitably prove lethal for your business. Conversely, look at the top companies in any industry and you will see that the one thing they all have in common is innovation. Just because an idea or method has worked for you in the past does not mean that it will continue to do so in the future, and the most successful business leaders know this. In order to continue to grow, your business and its strategies have to continue to be creative and experimental, driving innovation within the field rather than looking to what your competitors and others around you are doing.
By focusing on innovation within your business, you can ensure that it is clear throughout your company that stagnation is the enemy. You’ll increase competitiveness, which can result in higher efficiency with lower costs and a more efficient use of resources. Staff retention can go up, because working in an innovative and challenging environment in which teamwork and problem-solving are encouraged will bring more fulfillment. Additionally, by remaining innovative, you can be proactive rather than reactive in your approach to business. Your model will be continually evolving to match your growing needs as you enter new markets. Your business’ competitiveness and survival are directly linked to your ability to innovate, and below we explore some of the ways in which you can foster a workplace that breeds innovation.
Bring about awareness
One of the most important aspects of an innovative workplace is a constant awareness of the unique problems the company will face. For example, my company is in the franchise restaurant industry and one of our challenges is ensuring that we maintain a competitive edge over other national chains that potential owner-operators may choose to franchise with. Innovation is a combination of real-time creative ideas along with breakthrough ideas. Still, often but often workers are so focused on getting daily work done that they do not think or even consider looking for a more creative solution to how they approach their jobs. In a survey of more than 2,000 CFOs on what they feel is preventing their company from being more innovative, 27 percent said it resulted from being bogged down by daily tasks and putting out fires. An innovative environment can’t be created if your employees feel weighed down by their daily tasks or the need to put in long hours in order to get their jobs done. It is near impossible to come up with creative solutions when you already feel overwhelmed in your position, so making sure your company is distributing the workload in a way that ensures your employees have the mental space and energy to be inventive is essential. Once you have established an awareness of the necessity of innovation, you can begin to implement changes that encourage creative thinking.
Reward and empower
It is important to remember that things can be hazy from the top, and those employees who are more directly involved in the day to day of the business itself can sometimes have the best insights. They have the closest view into processes that could be made more efficient, so empowering employees by creating programs that allow them to bring up ideas about solving the previously identified problems is a great way to encourage innovation. These programs can be tailored to fit your business’ needs, whether that be an intensive week-long session, a more long-term quarterly challenge, or even a weekend retreat. Many external parties can be partnered with to run programs like these. The key aspect though, is to engage the entire company and allow those from every branch of the business to submit ideas. Also, by creating a distinctly separate program from employees’ day-to-day work, you avoid the problem of ideas and innovation being tied to job security and allow employees to get out of the traditional corporate feedback loop. You should also make a concerted effort to reward innovation whenever it occurs. When you celebrate people who show creativity, other employees take notice and are encouraged to repeat or emulate their behavior. It is important to publicly recognize people on your team who demonstrate innovation and help make the company more competitive.
Lead by example
While this may seem obvious, as a leader your employees are looking to you for guidance on how they should approach their work, so by remaining open to innovation you encourage it to continue down the chain. For your team to be truly innovative, they need you to cooperate with them, provide counsel, and actively engage with them. If your team sees that you are looking at the business proactively, always searching for better ways to solve problems, and open to hearing new ideas they, in turn, will follow your lead and seek to be more innovative within their individual positions. This also means showing that you trust those within your business to come up with great ideas by avoiding micromanaging, instead communicating the mission, vision, values, and goals of your company then stepping back and letting the team innovate. Continued growth is impossible without innovation, and by fostering a culture of innovation within your company, you ensure that it never falls behind as the world moves ahead.