The creativity gap between management and employees keeps getting wider. As a creativity keynote speaker I’m hired to get employees excited about creativity and innovation. By the end of the speech, which is a combination of creativity education, fun creativity exercises and interactive improv, I have accomplished what I set out to do. Employees would comment that they were excited about innovating and coming up with new ideas, and management was happy with the results.
But in private the employees would say, “This is great, but they don’t pay us extra for doing this” or “Nothing is really implemented on a regular basis to continue what we just learned” or “We don’t feel comfortable taking creative risks in the office”.
As I sat at lunch or dinner with the management team I would hear something totally different. I asked management if they would be willing to have some kind of plan to compensate employees for generating new ideas that made the company more money. I was told on more than one occasion that “They don’t really want compensation. It’s part of their job”. As far as being comfortable taking risks, management was sure they provided a safe environment for that, but employees would tell me otherwise. Obviously there is a gap there in communication.
The think tank Workforce Institute at Kronos did some research into workplace culture and found that management and employees don’t agree about workplace culture and how to create a good workplace culture. If they don’t even agree with the basics, how can they move on to become a more creative and innovative environment?
In the research study about a quarter of the executive team felt they shaped the workplace culture, while almost a third of the employees felt they were the ones who determined it. This was especially true with millennials, where about 40% felt like they were in charge of the workplace culture and that employees held more power.
Employees who come up with valuable ideas are an asset to the company. Some ideas improve the bottom line, some save the company money, and some improve the way the company does business. Having a creative and innovative workforce is extremely valuable to a company.
An idea doesn’t have to be a product. It can also be an idea for a marketing campaign, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was for the department store Montgomery Ward. Employee Robert May originally wrote the story as a poem for a Christmas marketing campaign to drive customers into the store. When May fell on hard times, the company gave him the rights to the beloved character he created.
To get good ideas, you have to go through some failure. Creativity involves a lot of failure, and employees must have the trust of management to be allowed to fail. Creativity doesn’t involve spending money. Coming up with a new idea is totally free. Until someone decides to implement it and spend money, management has nothing to lose.
It would be a good idea for management to set up a way to test new ideas without putting a lot of money into them. Having team-building exercises and real world scenarios where new ideas are put into action help employees see that they are allowed to make mistakes and fail without risking their jobs.
Have a smaller version of the new idea that can be tested out first instead of spending a lot of time and resources on an idea that may not work. Get management involved at that point to make sure everything is on the right track.
Studies have shown that employees who are involved in creativity are more satisfied with their jobs, especially if they are rewarded and appreciated for it. And the ones who are allowed to follow what they’re personally passionate about are more likely to stick with it until they come up with a great idea. This is why Google and 3M have always allowed employees in the past to spend a certain amount of their work time on ideas they find interesting.
Other companies are starting to realize that giving employees some slack time for play is a good idea. Apple’s Blue Sky program allows employees to take time to develop projects of their own. They got the idea from Google, who got the idea from 3M.
And then there is Linked In’s InCubator which does basically the same thing. Employees are encouraged to come up with ideas, then form a team around it and then pitch the idea to management. This is in addition to hackdays where employees take one Friday off a month to work on creative projects.
MicroSoft launched The Garage, which has at least 50 projects going every month. Some of those projects result in patents, which trickles down to a monetary bonus for those employees who are working on them.
Iconic companies like Procter and Gamble have a solid management innovation system in place. When I was the innovation keynote speaker for their International Engineering Summit I saw that first hand. Engineers already have the skills it takes to invent new products and generate innovation. P&G works hard to keep those valuable employees happy so they will stay with the company.
Innovation is at the heart of what P&G does. Here is what it says on their website:” For more than 175 years, innovation has been in our DNA. It’s how we drive growth, prevent the commoditization of categories, reduce costs and deliver value”. They go on to praise their research and development team of almost 8,000 employees from around the world for their contributions to innovation.
Keeping employees happy is vital to a workplace culture. One way to keep them happy is through creativity and a mutual trust and understanding of their value. Ultimately both management and employees should be on the same page if creativity and innovation is going to be a cornerstone of the corporate culture. Creativity is fun and makes the office a place to look forward to instead of dreading it. When employees are excited about coming in to work on Monday, you know you’re on the right track!