Innovation is the opposite of predictable, it’s messy. It almost never works out as planned and it takes a lot out of people. In most organizations a failed idea means getting fired. Which means people won’t be proactive and contribute ideas because of fear of retaliation. Still, leaders need to encourage and support it. How?
When it comes to encouraging innovation in your organization, you need to flip how you view recognition and rewards. The problem is that the process of innovating is inherently imperfect. If you reward only success, you will get a lot less initiative because of the fear of failed outcomes.
How do you encourage team members to be innovative knowing that their ideas will not all be successful? The answer is by rewarding the effort as much as the outcome.
If you reward only successful outcomes, you will get very little innovative effort from your team. So, when the outcome is disappointing you need to follow steps similar to those used to handle flawed decisions:
- Review the circumstances of the innovative effort with the team members.
- Do not be critical.
- Explain that your goal is to make sure everyone learns from the experience and that the outcome is better next time.
- Drive the conversation toward what can be done differently next time to get a better outcome.
- Make it clear that while the effort was not as successful as desired this time, you appreciate their willingness to be innovative and creative and want to encourage them to continue to do so.
Culture is what you celebrate and what you don’t tolerate. As stated before, culture is the single biggest driver of innovation. Thus, your culture must celebrate and reward effort as much as successful outcomes.
Bottom line: Every time you find a better way to do something, you are being innovative. The cost of not improving is higher than doing nothing. The best leaders know this and encourage, support and reward their people for taking risks; not just when things go right but also when they don’t.