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Organizational Change
6 Ways to Create an Innovative Workplace

At most organizations, inspiration and purpose drop as you move down management levels. The best leaders find ways to motivate people at every layer — from those in the C-suite to employees toiling in the basement boiler room.

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” — Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a true innovator; he also knew instinctively what we have known at Great Place to Work® for 30 years. We discovered that an inclusive approach is core to an innovative and sustainable workplace. This is what we call "Innovation by All™” — when leaders cultivate the intelligence, skills and passion of everyone in the organization. Everybody creates, everybody is connected and everybody contributes.

For everyone to bring their ideas forward, however, the organization needs a “For All™” culture. This is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences — an environment where people feel they belong and that their unique talents matter, and that colleagues and their leaders care for their needs.

In our research of the 100 Best Companies to Work For®, we found six practices that cultivate this inclusive, innovative environment.

1. Give all types of space.

Leading companies make space for more than work. They create mental, emotional and temporal space. Space for employees to be creative, take risks and come up with ideas that advance the organization.

2. Create energy by thanking all.

Recognizing everyone for their efforts, not just the outcomes, doesn’t dilute the idea. Instead, it acts as a fertilizer. It energizes individuals and the entire organization, and encourages people to keep contributing. The enthusiasm around trying to make things better is infectious and fun. And that is itself a catalyst for creativity.

Professional services firm Deloitte wanted to improve financial audits for clients. So, they sponsored an annual “Audit Innovation Challenge.” Finalists pitch their ideas to company leaders, but it's not only the winners who get rewarded — Deloitte acknowledges everyone who invents an idea, and this sustains an Innovation by All culture.

3. Nurture diverse connections.

Leading organizations build bridges, bringing people together who otherwise might never talk to each other, let alone collaborate.

4. Invest in everyone’s growth.

Lavishing resources only on employees who show ‘high potential’ is misguided. It ignores the potential of others and can have unintended consequences. It often leads to feelings of frustration and favoritism.

The best leaders see the value of maximizing all human potential and help every employee develop.

5. Make it easy for all.

Leading organizations know to leave no stone unturned. It’s not enough to put out a suggestion box. They make it simple for their people to generate ideas — and lots of them.

These companies go further by providing guidance for fleshing out a new concept. They adopt systems that allow peers to comment on and get behind promising proposals.

Texas Health Resources taps into the wisdom of employees, regardless of their role. This egalitarian approach is possible with a communication tool. Used throughout the design process, it's called "Question & Resolve." Employees can ask colleagues about designs until they reach mutual understanding.

6. Inspire all with purpose.

Our research shows that when employees use the term “incredible” to describe their workplace — such as “incredibly hardworking environment” or “incredible company journey” — they are 81 percent more likely to experience meaningful innovation opportunities.

At most organizations, inspiration and purpose drop as you move down management levels. The best leaders find ways to motivate people at every layer — from those in the C-suite to employees toiling in the basement boiler room.

The best news is that ‘Innovation by All’ company cultures generate more high-quality ideas and adopt them faster. Revenue grows 5.5 times more for these companies compared to less inclusive peers. To hear how some of these companies build and sustain their innovative cultures, join us at the Great Place to Work For All Summit in San Francisco in March 2020.

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