How To Grow Your Company’s Capacity for Innovation

Every company wants to innovate. Innovation does not just mean developing new products for sale, nor is it the exclusive domain of Google and other tech giants. Innovation means new methods and processes that make your business more efficient or responsive among other benefits, and it can take a wide variety of forms.

Because innovation is such an all-encompassing thing, there is no simple one way to improve innovation at your company, just as you cannot come up with a good idea on command. But what your business can do is foster the right environment so that anyone can come up with good ideas that will make your business that much more valuable. Here are just a few factors and ideas to consider that will improve your company’s innovative capacity environment.

Get the right people in

If you want an innovative company, you need innovative people. That does not mean hiring a bunch of Harvard geniuses to sit around and brainstorm, but rather hiring people with the right character traits and from different environments. A “safe”, qualified hire may by effective for the job he was hired for, but those very qualities could mean an unwillingness to change from what has worked in the past.

In the hiring process, look for people who show an interest and a past in innovation. Ask potential candidates how or when they have made or innovated something new. Do not be immediately turned off by a contrarian mind-set, as one person’s contrarian can be another’s innovator. An innovative business should have people willing to challenge “the way things are done,” while also understanding and respecting their colleagues who come up with other great ideas.

Get the wrong people out

I remember as a young man in one of my first jobs post-college coming up with what I thought was an interesting new idea. I took it over to an older colleague to ask what he thought, and I will never forget just how he snorted at the proposition. It was a ridiculous idea, he said, and it would create far more problems than it solved.

In hindsight, the colleague was right. My idea was bad. But that sort of environment and talk is not the sort of environment which will spur people to come up with new ideas. Creating a positive working environment is an important component of creating an innovative environment, and that means having people who will not brusquely squash innovative ideas. Regardless of their contributions to your company, make sure that toxic people who shut down ideas have a limited role or are driven out of your company entirely.

Set a Goal

Innovation for the sake of innovation has some merit and can help foster an innovative culture, but eventually you will likely want employees to focus on a specific problem. Maybe it is a way to market a new product, or a way to have customers find helpful hints to improve website traffic and learn about different companies. Having everyone focused on innovating on a specific problem is more efficient than everyone innovating on their own, separate issues.

Consequently, be open about what innovative problems you want your team to address. Set goals for team members to come up with a solution to a problem, and make sure to constantly praise those who come up with ideas, even if they are not the ideas which you ultimately use in the end.

Listen to Customers

Customers sometimes can be the best innovators of all, as they see the final product while many workers will only focus on their own specific department or responsibilities. An innovative company will not hesitate to tap into this resource.

For starters, make sure to improve communications with customers. Promote yourself on whatever social media or website you use so that customers know where they can in touch with you. Even if they do not directly come to you with a new idea, listen to whatever their complaints or thoughts are as that can be the spark to spur a new idea.

Some companies even go a step further and promote co-creation platforms which let companies collaborate with clients and customers. Sometimes the companies go far as to offer the outside innovator a percentage of the company sales. Think about whether your business can do something similar.

Cut out the Red Tape

Even if your customers or employees come up with an innovative idea, that means little if they lack the resources or time to think over it more or implement their proposed solutions. Cutting out bad red tape from your organization means that employees will have more time, both to innovate and engage in other more productive activities. Some businesses thrive on innovation, like the best wildlife removal services which need new techniques to deal with protected species and wildlife.

Empowerment is a major key to cutting out the red tape, and also improves innovation. Encourage employees to act on their own initiative, instead of waiting for processes to be completed which just delay matters. And if employees come to you with innovative ideas, do everything you can to help grow said idea instead of saying “I’ll consider it later.” Even if you genuinely mean that and do not intend to blow off the idea, employees will feel annoyed and less interested in innovating after such a discouraging response.

Never Give Up

Contrary to the stories, innovation is not just some thing which just happens while sitting in a bathtub. It is a constant, long process which can start with an idea, but ends with a change for the better in the organization. It requires buy-in not just from those at the top, but from those at the bottom who know that if they come up with something interesting, it will be respected if not implemented.

Consequently, investigate how you can build that culture with the right people and environment with the above tips as well as other ideas. But remember that innovation is something which is never done. There will always be ways you can improve your organization to create a more innovative environment. 

Brett Sartorial

Brett is a business journalist with a focus on corporate strategy and leadership. With over 15 years of experience covering the corporate world, Brett has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, analytical and insightful journalist. He has a deep understanding of the business strategies and leadership principles that drive the world's most successful companies, and is able to explain them in a clear and compelling way. Throughout his career, Brett has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders and has covered major business events such as the World Economic Forum and the Davos. He is also a regular contributor to leading business publications and has won several awards for his work.