“If you want people to think outside the box, do NOT put their brains in a box.”
- Gerald “Solutionman” Haman, Thinkubator
The daily grind is named such for a reason. For many people, the daily grind is, well, a grind: Get up; get your household moving, fed and out the door; trudge to the office; assume the position in your cubicle; work; go home; do it all over again tomorrow.
What the smartest companies realize, however, is that happy employees are more productive, and that implementing innovation as a key strategy to company growth means starting from the ground up. Your employees are the lifeblood of your company, and as such, any worthwhile endeavor should start with them.
Your employees are more than likely a diverse group of individuals, each with their own unique abilities that may or may not be being used to their fullest potential. Tapping into that potential will allow everyone to grow and contribute in more meaningful ways. And a more fulfilled workforce means a more successful company.
“We operate in a global workforce 24/7 and organizations are required to perform at the multi-faceted intersection of business strategy, people, technology, process, compliance and fluctuating market conditions. At this intersection lies a unique opportunity for organizations to rethink how they manage their employees. By thoughtfully motivating and retaining their human capital, high-performing organizations skillfully add significant momentum to their bottom line.” - Nancy Mobley founder and CEO of Insight Performance
Here are five ideas to create a workplace that fosters innovation.
1. Have a weekly basketball game.
Have a basketball goal installed in the parking lot. Then, set an hour aside one day a week to have a pick-up game. Kick off the loafers and heels and go at it. The more the merrier. You’ll be surprised how quickly Joe from accounting will open up when you take him away from his spreadsheets.
If you don’t have the room or budget for a basketball goal, play hacky sack in the lobby or the break room- anything to get people up, moving and relaxed with each other. (Tip- stay away from dodgeball.)
2. Have a space dedicated to creativity.
Block off an area in the office that is dedicated solely to employee creativity- a place where people can go when they need to sort out a tough problem or flesh out some ideas. Go crazy with it. I’m talking bean bag chairs, dart boards, Rubik’s Cubes, puzzles, a pool table, an ice cream bar..heck, even a dance floor. It should be somewhere people can go to let off steam and allow the creativity to flow.
Inc.com recently asked its followers on Twitter to share some of their coolest workplace perks. Here are just a couple:
Ogilvy & Mather Midwest
Aside from office parties, the Ogilvy softball team and impromptu happy hours, public relations and communications firm Ogilvy & Mather’s Midwest division also offers massages once every two weeks to employees, free ice cream and a game room complete with a pool table, Ping-Pong and Foosball. Such activities keep the creative spirit alive in the office and create a relaxing environment for work.
Pinnacle extends its mission to provide stellar services to seniors and those with disabilities to its employees by making it a family-friendly workplace. The company allows new mothers to bring their babies to work with them up to nine months old, and the office boasts a foam pit, Velcro wall, swings, arcade games and more to satisfy the inner child within all its employees.
3. Brainstorm like there is no tomorrow
Have you ever held a company-wide meeting, wrapped up your presentation and opened the floor for questions and comments, only to be met by the sound of crickets? You can practically see the protective barriers coming up. It’s because no one wants to rock the boat and say something that might be considered wrong in the eyes of their peers.
Here’s what you need to do. Have a monthly brainstorming session. Break out the sticky notes, markers, giant notepads and a gigantic silly hat. The wearer of the hat gets five minutes of everyone’s undivided attention. Go around the room and let each person have a turn to wax poetic about the topic at hand. Think of all of the “what ifs” and then some. You’ll be surprised what you can learn when employees are given the chance to voice their honest opinions.
Let’s face it. You and your employees spend way too many hours of your lives at work for it not to be fun.
Psychologist Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D., former president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor says, “Humor and play are in the corporate mission statements of Southwest Airlines, Google and Ben & Jerry’s. At most places, you won’t read it in the manual, but I think companies should be thinking about it.”
Used properly, humor is a powerful tool with which to lift people up, and it’s no secret that happy employees are more productive.
Dr. Sultanoff lists three ways that humor impacts people: cognitive, emotional, and psychological. “From a cognitive standpoint, humor can help put a problem into perspective for employees, and can help people to relate to a difficult issue. Emotionally, humor can supplant stress or frustration. People who effectively use humor often have a better ability to interact and connect with others, which can lead to a more productive workplace. As for the psychological aspects of humor, people tend to work better when they are happy and feel good, and when they perceive their environment as positive.”
5. Buddy up.
One of the greatest things you can have in your professional life is a mentor- someone who takes you under their wing and puts you on a path to your better self.
Pair up your new, younger employees with those who have been in the workplace longer. They don’t even have to be in the same department. Mentoring builds a sense of community on the job. When you know there is that one person who has your back, who wants you to succeed, it’s a powerful motivator.
Hey, it works for Zappos!
“Our vision is for almost all of our hires to be entry level, but for the company to provide all the training and mentorship necessary so that any employee has the opportunity to become a senior leader within the company within five to seven years,” says Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. “For us, this is still a work in progress, but we’re really excited about its future. Without continually growing and learning both personally and professionally, it’s unlikely that any individual employee will still be with the company ten years from now. Our goal at Zappos is for our employees to think of their work not as a job or career, but as a calling.”
The bottom line: A happy, creative workforce will ensure a constant flow and exchange of new ideas- Innovation that will nourish your ultimate goals: customer creation, expansion and retention.