Encourage innovation: How to appreciate the dark horse and let loose imagination

By allowing a synchronized way of work, business managers can ensure that the employees are freed up of clutter, and are allowed to have productive breakthroughs

Updated: Jun 14, 2017 11:08:52 AM UTC
Photo: Shutterstock

Come to think of it, every tangible object around us is an innovation. From glass to machinery, telephones to the internet, electricity to communication, all it took was an out-of-the-box thinking to enable the furtherance of human civilization.

Innovation is crucial to the constant evolution of our culture and is the process by which an idea translates into greater good. In corporate parlance, evolutionary innovations are deemed to bring in incremental advancements which are processed to simplify business solutions and achieve greater organisational goals. Synonymous with risk-taking and a confidence of reaching new markets and audiences with breakthrough thinking, innovators are the ones whom corporate managers anoint on a pedestal.

Today future-looking business leaders view innovation as the responsibility of every employee and do not shy away from encouraging risk taking, as they know exploring the unknown gives birth to breakthrough ideas. Innovations are born out of good ideas and successful businesses are the ones which continue to grow by developing a value stream of better ideas.

Successful businesses innovate 24/7, and it is this cutting-edge that differentiates them from others. By allowing a synchronized way of work, business managers can ensure that the employees are freed up of clutter, and are allowed to have productive breakthroughs. Some ways how employees could be inspired to innovate include:

1)    Let the employees speak their mind – More often than not, top-rung managers think of ideas with a closed mind-set, and also do not let their subordinates think of different ideas. This, on one hand, doesn’t let fresh ideas come in, and on the other, breaks down employee confidence, making them feel inconsequential. When an employee feels valued, he is more likely to think out-of-the-box without any pre-conceived notions and hence can deliver results that are extraordinary.

2)    Don’t rush for ideas – Innovation doesn’t happen on timelines. If you pressurize yourself and your colleagues to think differently and deliver results, you are more likely to fail in your endeavours. Engage in light-hearted banter with colleagues, sleepover ideas, and get non-associative people to scrutinize and work upon your ideas. More often than not, ideas come when you least expect it.

3)    Engage in Corporate Imagination – Making workplace fun and engaging in corporate imagination exercises or competitions lets people be comfortable and hence deliver excellent results. Remember, the greatest tech ideas of the last decade were bred out of Hackathons and the biggest social networking idea today – Facebook was conceptualized over a few drinks.

4)    PlayActing Scenarios – Nothing brings the better out of an employee than an adverse situation. Creating roleplays in the office environment where a particular employee is tasked to think from a different point of view, may make the mundane task fun and engaging for everyone. Take the famous example from the movie Wolf of Wall Street where to get a new client on board Jordan Belfort (the protagonist) goes all out to create the stock exchange scenario in his office, is one hilarious but pertinent example of how playacting can encourage innovative approach.

5)    10 Ways to Do It – Remember the classic question of sales – “Sell me a pen in 10 ways?” This is one of the most apt strategy to encourage innovation. Thinking of a problem from various perspectives lets one look at the scenario from a different perspective, while also allowing others to think one step ahead. This exercise surely helps with bringing the best out of a group and attempts multiple strategies for a simple activity.

It is a known fact that good work keeps the business running, and to be a mile long of the competition, one needs to think ahead of the curve. Doing great work, which is built on innovation lets employees deliver a difference for themselves, their team and their organisations.


So how do you encourage your employees to be the Dark Horse, and surge for innovation? OC Tanner’s study on Great Work demonstrates that Great Work happens when employees learn and practice Five Simple Skills which lead to innovation, difference making, and great work. These skills are:

1)    Asking the Right Question
2)    Seeing for Themselves
3)    Talking to their Outer Circle
4)    Improving the Mix
5)    Delivering the Difference

However, incorporating innovation is no easy deal. It is exemplified by the fact that most executives believe the responsibility of innovation only belongs to senior management, as brought to light in 2015 Great Work Index Study by OC Tanner. The study also shows that employees in non-management roles believe that everyone should have the opportunity to innovate. This goes to show that although employees are eager to innovate when they aren’t expected to, results differ.

So how do you make positive imagination, a core business strategy? We believe that the following steps help in creating that cutting-edge.

1) By appreciating Great Work – The first step towards developing confidence amongst the team and encouraging innovations is to appreciate good work. Celebrating even small steps taken to think out of the box, should be rewarded and let be known to all. Recognizing this thinking will enable one to create a value-stream of positivity, which will encourage one and all to be innovative thinkers.

2) By letting everybody Innovate – You could only create a habit of innovativeness by encouraging everyone to think different. Make it a fun exercise and reward them well. This will encourage people to look ahead to these exercises and gradually inculcate a habit of thinking out-of-the-box.

3) Guide employees and let them explore – You cannot foster innovation by hand holding. Draw out the expectations. Arm your employees to seek out the innovation and let them go. No boundaries and no expectations. Best ideas only emerge when there is no pressure to seek them, hence have the greatest potential to be sought out.

In the highly dynamic corporate environment, it becomes imperative for business leaders to motivate their employees to come out of their comfort zone and seek innovation. We at OC Tanner believe that the spirit of innovation can be made an intrinsic corporate culture if it is invited, supported and encouraged.

Leaders who empower their colleagues by appreciating minute innovations double the employees zest to achieve something new. This, in turn, encourages the zeal of doing good work and helps in the growth of the organization. While leaders need to show the direction, they should refrain from handholding their colleagues, as it will stall their motivation to seek out.  In conclusion, it is only wise to say, “When leaders empower great work, everyone wins”.

Zubin Zack is the Director and Chief Recognition Strategist for O.C. Tanner – Global Employee Recognition and Engagement Company. 

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

Check out our end of season subscription discounts with a Moneycontrol pro subscription absolutely free. Use code EOSO2021. Click here for details.