The best way to transform your workplace? Inspire your workforce.
When people hear the word innovation, they often think about game-changing, market-creating inventions such as personal computers or smart phones. But innovation can encompass any new idea that positively influences a company's bottom line--including incremental improvements in ordinary operations. Your front-line employees, steeped as they are in day-to-day processes, may be your best source of such innovative ideas. How can you empower them to create change without causing chaos? Here are a few tips for putting the wheels in motion:
Align employee contributions to shared goals. Before you can even elicit solutions from employees, you must underscore the importance of their role in making your company's strategic plan a reality. Share these goals at every level and show employees how they can contribute to their success. Telling a factory worker, "You need to increase sales by 10%," isn't very motivating, but by saying, "We need to find ways to optimize production to reach our sales goal," you're helping to inspire innovation through teamwork.
Give employees permission to question the status quo. Innovative organizations embrace a culture of open communication, in which employees are encouraged to offer ideas and question inefficiencies and rewarded for their suggestions. In such a culture, "because we've always done it that way" is not an acceptable response to questions. These companies encourage not only vertical interaction but horizontal as well by forming cross-functional teams to break down silos and solve problems.
Provide a conduit for ideas. It's not enough to have great ideas. There must also be a process for gathering, evaluating, funding and implementing them. Team members must know how to propose ideas, and groups--often a cross-functional committee--should convene on a regular basis to give each idea consideration and determine which ones merit funding (if necessary) and implementation. The decisive factor should, of course, be their effect on the bottom line and how closely they align with overall strategy.
The rewards of empowering your workforce to become agents of change go beyond just process improvement and innovation, allowing your employees to experience a sense of shared purpose that can invigorate the entire organization.
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