Being innovative is part of the DNA of a tech startup – or at least it should be. But when your employees are working 18-hour days, unleashing their inner innovators can be a challenge. These 7 tips can help get the ball rolling:
1. Set an example. An innovative company needs to start with the founders and top execs. While even the most creative founders can’t drive innovation all by themselves, someone has to lead the way. Show your employees (don’t just tell them) that you value innovation by making it part of your daily life.
2. Clarify goals. Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every person on the team should be clear on the startup’s business goals and what you are trying to achieve at each stage of development. This helps them know what’s important and what areas might benefit from new ideas.
3. Offer rewards. Yes, you’re a startup and don’t have a lot of cash on hand, but there are plenty of other ways to reward your team for innovations. Public recognition, a bonus, paid time off or promotions are all great rewards for successful innovation. And make sure you show public appreciation for employees’ efforts to come up with new ideas, even if they don’t pan out.
4. Build it in. Make innovation part of employees’ job descriptions – not just something that’s “nice to do if you have time.” Build it into the review process – reward it when it happens and ask for it when it doesn’t. This goes for every employee — from customer service to your head of engineering. Not every employee can rethink your business model, true, but they can rethink their own jobs and offer valuable ideas.
5. Have a hack day. Consider following the example of Google, which famously has employees devote 20% of their time to activities unrelated to their jobs. Set a day or a morning each week aside for a “hack day” where employees can explore things outside their responsibilities.
6. Take ideas seriously. Employees won’t innovate for long if their ideas are dismissed without a second thought or, worse, made fun of. Even if you’re all friends, feelings can get hurt. Develop a system to capture ideas so they don’t disappear into a black hole. Give each idea a respectful hearing and make sure all other employees do, too.
7. Implement ideas. This one may sound obvious, but too many innovation programs are all talk and no action (remember that forlorn suggestion box, anyone?). If you never implement any of your employees’ ideas, you’ll soon find the well of inspiration drying up. Don’t have any ideas that are ready for prime time? Pick two or three that are almost there and have your team focus on fine-tuning them until at least one is worth testing.