“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” – Charles Kettering
“Innovator,” “disruptor,” “game changer” all phrases describing today’s most successful companies. How do you develop a creative culture in your company? Whether you are in a tech company or car dealership innovation is key to survival. Your company doesn’t need to have ping pong tables or napping pods to entice creativity. But your team does need to have an open mind and view innovation as an experiment and not take failure personally. Start by throwing “because we’ve always done it that way” out the window but instead think “how could we make it work.”
Your company may have a cultivated “best practices” to lean on, these same best practices can also act as roadblocks to the future. An owner’s view of how the past has affected the present and dictates future, influences key leaders. This shapes culture, impacts the organization’s ability to plan strategically, and optimize opportunities in the market place. A culture that does not nurture “forward thinking” from their people, as well as from the leadership perspective, jeopardizes long-term business success and value.
Here are five ways you can identify areas where you may be “stuck” and capitalize on missed opportunities, strategies to encourage leaders to think innovatively to drive the bottom line, and keys to “create buy-in” when implementing new ideas.
- The Paradigm Question
How do you generate ideas and empower your people to think creatively? Consider starting with the paradigm question: “If we could do things different to stream line a process, generate more revenue, or increase productivity what they would be?”
If your team is new to brainstorming or no one is piping up with ideas, an exercise that encourages “silent brainstorming” may be the best strategy to get the ideas flowing. To facilitate silent brainstorming, ask your team to pull out a piece of paper and write down 4 or 5 things related to the question. Then ask each team member to pass their paper to the right and add 1 or two things to the list. Keep repeating this activity until the paper ends up back at the originators position. Go around the room and ask each team member to read their paper and begin to list the ideas on a whiteboard or flip chart and watch the discussion begin.
Mixing up teams will also inject a dose of creativity. Everyone has the same goal, to make the company as successful as possible. But does everyone know what their colleagues do or what challenges they face in their perspective areas of the business? Who buys your product/service? Why? What is the consumers biggest challenge with the current product/service? What is your company’s challenge with the production or service and how its offered? This is the time to get creative.
- Narrowing Field of Focus
Often when we ask our people for ideas, it might feel like they took the crayon way out of the lines, missed the paper all together and are just creating a big mess. So, a question we often get is “How do we encourage creativity while at the same time keeping it focused.
The quick answer is to provide guidelines, they can color outside the lines, but keep certain criteria in mind. Critical to providing guidelines are a defined mission, vision, values and guiding principles.
To keep your people focused, provide them the tools to be creative, which will come from the mission statement. If you don’t have a well-defined or engrained mission statement in your organization, start there. The mission statement is key to your ability to lead your people in the direction you/and the organization want to go.
- How to Know if You Are Stuck in the Best Practices Rut
With all the creative juices flowing your team is bound to hit a wall. To break through the wall ask yourselves the following:
- What is working?
- What is not working?
- What are we learning?
- What can we do differently to become more effective?
These 4 questions will help you and your team challenge the status quo and continue to grow their full potential.
Another outcome of a creative environment is the slew of great ideas. So, how do you prioritize strategies? When we work with clients in this situation, we use what we call a Priority Matrix. The priority matrix is a tool that allows you and your team to debate which strategy is more or less important than others a over a specified period of time. The outcome is a clear understanding of how to see the trees from the forest and create a game plan.
For more information on how to set up this grid, reach out to me a Adriana@rawlsgroup.com and I will provide you a sample worksheet to use.
- Nurturing Innovation
Harnessed creativity takes leadership. Often as leaders, we can get in a rut of making proclamations and telling people what to do – essentially thinking for them. If you find yourself in this space; change your approach to asking more questions, motivating your people to think, generate ideas and use the mission and vision to guide them in the direction you want to go. If you are finding it difficult to create buy-in from your people – or your leadership – ask them to suspend disbelief. A question we often find affective is – “If it could work, what would it look like” That approach tends to engage the creative mind, create participation, which then leads to buy-in.
Buy-in is also dependent upon how safe your environment feels for people to think differently.
From this perspective, always be looking to see if there are different ways to play with FIRE in your culture:
While we may not all grow to be Amazon or Facebook, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lot from the start-up mentality. When fostering creativity, it might be helpful to act like a start-up company. Company leaders and employees should reignite passion in developing goals and pursing industry or company achievements. Leadership should stress communication and appreciation to win hearts and minds in being open and honest and answering the “why.” Why the need for innovation, why the need to change and why now. Whether or not your company has a good reputation with customers, are top performers, or receive accolades for operational achievements, challenge yourselves by asking: What more do you want to be known for? And finally, it may be cliché but get comfortable with being uncomfortable, remember throw “because we’ve always done it that way” out the window and big changes are coming.
About the Author
Adriana Puente is an Associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. Adriana specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by business owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value. For additional information, visit www.rawlsgroup.com.
Author: Contributing Writer
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