Entrepreneurs

Council Post: Want Your Employees To Innovate? Don’t Make These 10 Counterproductive Mistakes

Motivating and guiding a team of employees toward innovation can be difficult even for the most seasoned leaders. You want to instill confidence in your employees, but giving up control and allowing them to embrace their creativity can be difficult.

To that end, 10 Young Entrepreneur Council members shared things employers should avoid doing if they want to encourage their employees to innovate. Here are some common behaviors and mistakes they believe hinder innovation, and why these actions can be harmful and counterproductive in the workplace.

1. Over-Emphasizing Expertise

The big mistake employers often make is emphasizing expertise too heavily. Best practices and established knowledge can certainly help a business solve tough challenges, but if you really want to try something new, you have to be open to ideas from outsider perspectives. IMD Business School professors Michael Wade, Cyril Bouquet and Jean-Louis Barsoux developed an interesting framework for fostering innovation. It’s called “ALIEN thinking,” and the gist is that we have to learn to think like outsiders in order to innovate. A lot of businesses fail to cultivate this outsider thinking because they immediately defer to the experts, whoever they might be in a given project or team. But employers would benefit from having more faith in the outsiders, who might just surprise you. – Miles Jennings, Recruiter.com

2. Using Default Explanations

At all costs, avoid default explanations such as “because this is how we’ve always done it” or “well, we tried it once and it didn’t work” as a response to suggestions for innovation. Experience matters and can provide a valuable foundation for further development and improvement, but it can also inadvertently undermine employers’ attempts to encourage novel thinking. Sure, past experience offers reference and context, but just because something has been unsuccessfully attempted once doesn’t mean that it can’t be tried again with a different team or in a slightly different way. Remember, it’s essential to learn from past experience, but relying too heavily on what has “always been done” or what was “attempted in the past” can also dampen new employees’ appetite for discovery. – Lindsay Tanne, LogicPrep

3. Building Teams That Run Solo

Innovation requires collaboration. An organization with teams who work independently, without communicating with other teams, will have little cohesive spirit. Collaboration can not only motivate team members, but it can also facilitate brainstorming sessions aimed at enhancing creativity. Those working independently will come across ideas that are similar. When employees find out that a similar idea was submitted by someone else, they feel demotivated. Additionally, the time they spent working on their idea is wasted. Having close collaboration among teams gives a clear picture of what each member has been working on. They can share their ideas, get feedback and experiment. A combination of ideas from multiple team members will foster innovation. – Liam Martin, TimeDoctor.com

4. Offering Too Many Guidelines

As reversed as this sounds, giving too much guidance on what you’re looking for sometimes blocks their mindset. I like to leave it as open as possible so that their imagination runs wild. – Jennie Yoon, Kinn

5. Assigning Too Much Work

Don’t fail to give your employees the bandwidth to do work and a clear, delineated time allocated for development. How can you ask an employee who’s already stretched to develop anything? It’s going to fall through. You have to be a partner to their efforts, find out what’s causing time sucks and work together on developing solutions to each and every one of those challenges. After that, you can develop something beyond that. Businesses need to get their operations in order before they develop something new. – Richard Fong, Automatic Growth

6. Giving Them All The Answers

If you want to encourage employees to innovate, stop giving them all the answers. Top-down leaders or those who think they are the smartest person in the room will often give their teams the solutions to every problem that comes up. This stifles innovation because it teaches employees to look to the boss to innovate. Creating a culture of problem-solving means that leaders need to ask questions instead of giving answers. You need to train people to think for themselves. If someone asks you a question, simply rephrase the question and ask it back to that person differently. Be open to having discussions about things and ask other team members to help solve problems even if you know the solution. When people come to answers themselves, they are more enthusiastic about executing them. – Matt Wilson, Under30Experiences

7. Immediately Saying ‘No’

There’s a thin line between keeping things aligned with the strategy and discouraging innovative ideas, and that’s actually where things often get counterproductive. On the one hand, you don’t want to fall prey to shiny objects syndrome; you don’t want to take something on just because it’s new. But on the other hand, how can you innovate if you operate within the limits? I think the solution is to let the ideas flow and let them be discussed and reviewed. Don’t say “no” immediately. Let the people on the team explain how they see their idea implemented and how it fits the strategy. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

8. Seeking Answers Without Defining The Cause

Your employees will innovate in whatever way you ask them to, but they need to know the “how.” This should be clearly delineated in team meetings or other gatherings. If you don’t define this for them, their results will not be what you want or expect. – Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

9. Micromanaging

Nothing stifles innovation like micromanagement. My partners and I run a 100% remote business with people from around the world. We do this by setting goals and then letting people work at times that suit them and in ways that are best for them, with a few necessary caveats. This creates the right atmosphere for innovation. It also helps to create a work culture where people are encouraged to speak their minds. It lets employees know that their ideas matter and that they should share what they think to help us grow our business better. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

10. Having A ‘Yes, But’ Mindset

The most common mistake leaders make is that they approach new ideas from their subordinates with a “yes, but” mindset. Every new idea means a new task, and in leaders’ busy lives, they’re often more focused on getting things done, and a “yes, but” answer seems like a shortcut to get things done quickly. But, this is exactly what kills innovation. One must encourage their team to come up with fresh ideas, and even try to explore those that don’t seem amazing from the very beginning. – Dmitri Lisitski, Influ2

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