Posted by Renie McClay ● March 2, 2017

L&D Organization Should Take Lead Role in Culture of Innovation

shutterstock_586113278.jpgTraditionally in many organizations, innovation has primarily been a responsibility of the research & development and marketing departments. Competitive pressures and the rapid rate of technological evolution are changing that. More and more, companies need to leverage creativity throughout the enterprise in order to improve products and services, as well as increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Every business unit has a role to play with regard to innovation, and it falls to the learning function to equip the workforce with the tools and support to facilitate that creative excellence. This is an area where L&D professionals can take a lead role in moving the organization forward by establishing a creative framework and an environment of creativity.

Here are five ways L&D organizations can make strides toward building a culture of innovation.

Train managers on how to stimulate creativity.

Provide managers with exercises for meetings and brainstorming sessions, which can help team members generate new ideas. When leadership demonstrates that they truly value innovation, not simply listing it in their company values, that emphasis on creative thinking trickles down. Start meetings or problem-solving sessions with a “blue sky” exercise, where people identify the best solution in a world without limits. Encourage wacky ideas—you never know when an “out there” idea will lead to something that works. Teach managers to avoid creativity-squelching responses.

Remove disincentives to new ideas.

Regularly ask employees for input, and really listen to what they have to say. Reward new ideas. Stop people from dismissing ideas by saying things like, “we tried that already.” Communicate about the value of new ideas in the workplace. As an example, a business unit in a packaging firm identified a change that resulting in cost savings of $1 million in the first year. The innovation was identified in a workshop, and when asked why they didn’t speak up sooner, they said, “We did—years ago. No one listened, so we stopped talking.” Learning leaders, let them know you are listening. Help business leaders by offering to facilitate efficiency improvement sessions so they care hear employees' ideas.

Carve out regular time for creativity.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Innovation in L&D: Building a Modern Learning CultureCreative thinking requires relaxed time for the ideas to surface. Great creative ideas don’t come to us when we are stressed and heads-down working on a deadline or when we are glued to our phone. Thomas Edison carried an idea book with him all the time to capture ideas when they occurred to him during his day. He then scheduled time for sitting, so ideas could come to him, and then he would go back and review the accumulated ideas and drawings and focus on steps for putting them into action.

Dedicate physical space for innovative ideas.

If you want people to think outside the box, don’t put their brains in a box. Set aside a designated space for creative thinking—not a social place for networking, but a quiet, comfortable spot for people to sit and let ideas come. Think about those terribly sterile working environments where people are somehow expected to produce creative ideas; now think of the opposite. How would you use the senses to create stimulating environments that encourage creativity? Colors, scents, and textures can all add to the creative dimensions. Toys or "fiddlers" (things to keep hands busy, like Koosh or stress balls) can help set the tone. If a dedicated creative space isn't possible, try periodically decorating a meeting room and inviting employees to come and express ideas. Hang flip charts around the room with questions and let people anonymously answer, and serve simple snacks to encourage attendance.

Facilitate open discussions about creativity.

As a group, discuss the organizational benefits of a culture of creativity, then collectively answer these key questions:

  • What can the leader do to stimulate creativity?
  • Is there a creative way the team can work together?
  • Can communication be creative?
  • Is there an innovative way to build relationships?
  • Can the group innovatively work to be more efficient?
  • Is there a creative solution to a problem?
  • How can the group creatively celebrate success?

Obviously, not all of these strategies will work in every company. Organizational culture varies dramatically, and it’s important to consider how these efforts will be received when developing ideas to enhance creativity. A conservative company culture may not be comfortable with hula hoops and crayons, but even then, more subdued techniques such as mind mapping might be acceptable. Whatever the culture, stretch the boundaries, making time to introduce stimulating activities. Support team members in their journey to be more creative, and support the team in innovative exercises.

Just like any change management initiative, results will not happen overnight, and there will be some pushback. Events or communication will get the initiative started, and the L&D team can initiate it or keep it moving forward by repeating key messaging. Communicating the value of innovation to the team and the company will keep it running. Recognizing ideas will keep it in front of people. And adding fun is a great start to attract attention. The number one thing a leader can do to stimulate creativity and innovation on a team is to model it. If you ever say to yourself, “I’m not creative,” stop. Change it to, “I’m working on my creativity to stimulate innovation." If your team sees that you value creativity and innovation, and are trying new things, this will encourage them to be creative as well.

Watch the On-Demand Webinar: Increase the Impact of Your Learning…By Thinking  More Like a Marketer

Topics: Change Management