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Encouraging innovation is best practice

Rapid and continuous changes in customer behavior demands that businesses respond with innovative products and services. Social media and societal mobility has produced more sophistication and drive to higher consumer expectations. Businesses that respond well will be successful in the future.

Everyone talks of their desire for innovation, but do you know how to encourage it in your organization? Fostering new ideas, providing a fertile environment for inventiveness, rewarding success frequently and allowing experimentation all are components of an innovative company. The most efficient and effective source of innovation is found in your own employees. There are many ways to get the creative juices flowing. Following are some workable ideas.

• Encourage experimentation — Allow employees to think freely. Encourage, highlight and reward new ideas whether they are successful or not. If you are in a cost cutting mode of operation it is hard to get innovativeness from your staff when they are concerned about their future or the viability of the organization.

• Tolerate, even reward, mistakes — There has to be some tolerance of failure but at the same time no expectation of failure. Lessons can be learned from mistakes. Thomas Edison once said, “You’ll never find ways things DO work, without finding the ways that won’t work first.”

• Provide forum for employees to voice ideas —This takes more than the old fashioned “suggestion box.” Establish a process of submitting new ideas, but not a bureaucracy. Use your resources to investigate and experiment with new ideas. Create parameters for your employees to think creatively.

• Set up teams to incubate and experiment — Invest in a team that can come up with an idea and then follow up with a group to try out the new concepts. Evaluate the risks and rewards involved.

• Utilize new employees, interns, trainees — Don’t discount ideas from “newbies”. New ideas don’t always come from the ranks of your senior staff but often from new employees, younger staff members, interns, trainees, etc. Try contests among employees with prizes for the winners. It doesn’t have to be expensive to offer motivating rewards for innovativeness.

• Ensure the innovation fits in your overall strategic plan — Once a new idea emerges ensure it fits in your strategic direction and your corporate identity. If it doesn’t fit into your current business model you have a decision to make as to whether you can make the investment necessary to adopt the new idea.

Don’t get stuck in just a survival mode. An attitude of zero tolerance for mistakes will kill the spirit of innovation. Meet the challenge and find ways to overcome it. Waiting can become a losing strategy. Encouragement of mind stretching and creativity is an ongoing process that must be integrated into the fabric of your organization to be effective. It is not a one-shot initiative. It must be continuous. What got you to where you are will not necessarily get you to where you want to go.


Becky Vaughn-Furlow retired from Trustmark Bank as executive vice-president and human resources director. She can be contacted by emailing bvaughnfurlow@gmail.