15 Simple Ways to Help Your Employees Innovate (Even in Tough Times)

Working through the pandemic has caused many professionals a lot of anxiety. Even though this free time affords people more opportunity to achieve their goals, they aren’t often seizing it because they’re stressed about their health, their families and their jobs.

As a leader, it’s important to empower your team to use this time to continue growing, learning and evolving, even if they’re preoccupied with just “staying afloat” right now. Below, 15 members of Rolling Stone Culture Council explained how to encourage your team members to experiment and innovate during difficult times. Follow their recommended steps to keep everyone’s morale high and creative juices flowing.

Give Them a Break From Their Work

When employees are stressed one of the last things they’ll be thinking about is how to be innovative. As a leader, create the space and time for your employees to take a break from their work and give them a chance to explore something new. This could even be in the form of a scheduled innovation day. This could give your employees a much-needed mental break and their new ideas could also pay off big. – Matt Tuffuor, Toasted Life

Create an Open Environment to Share Ideas

Just like when you were a kid, create an open environment for people to share their ideas in front of an attentive audience. For something fast and lightweight, you could also create a shared “Creative Ideas” document for the team to contribute to, a living place for ideas to be logged and expanded on. – Tim Jack, Rise

Set Up Experiments With Real-Time Feedback

While working with cannabis companies during the pandemic, I thought it was great to see the industry constantly evolve and test products, marketing and new technology. Being able to set up these experiments so that there is real-time feedback and data that shows whether or not something is working allows employees and businesses to be agile and learn what works to drive growth. – Jon Lowen, Surfside Solutions Inc.

Encourage Experimentation, Not Just Results

Often people remark that life during the pandemic feels like the movie Groundhog Day — the same context, the same routine, the same outcomes. I think people are more open to experimentation and innovation at work during this time because it helps break the monotony of our day-to-day lives right now. The biggest thing a leader can do is encourage the process of experimentation, not just the results! – Wayne Mackey, Statespace

Hold a Monthly Brainstorming Session

Leaders should foster an environment that values collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Once a month, you can hold a brainstorming session with your teams to hear new ideas and concepts. For us, we take team feedback seriously and, if it aligns with our vision, we’ll consider it to build out. – Vanessa Gabriel, Drop Delivery

Double Down on Your Core Principles

In our business, it’s not just employees relying on us for their livelihood; many of our users suddenly need the income they make with our products to stay afloat during the pandemic. During this time, leaders need to double down on their core principles so that employees know they’re working toward something greater — greater than the team, greater than the industry, greater than the pandemic. – Alexander Mitchell, Boomy Corporation

Give Your Team Ownership

It’s clear and simple: ownership. Make it clear to employees that they own their team, metrics and outcomes. And those goals have to be a stretch, always, and that will require innovation. Then be sure they feel supported and safe and the innovation will flow. – John Tabis, The Bouqs Company

The Rolling Stone Culture Council is an invitation-only community for Influencers, Innovators and Creatives. Do I qualify?

Make It Safe to Fail

Explicitly allow failure. Failure leads to success, provided you learn from what went wrong and address it. In fact, “reconciled” failure can be a great leading indicator of future success. But, taking risks is hard to do without permission and encouragement. Create an environment in which it’s safe to take risks and your team will naturally lean into experimenting and innovating.  – Drew Silverstein, Amper Music

Provide a Forum for Virtual ‘Watercooler’ Talk

We recently created a “zeitgeist” Slack channel for our team to share things that we’re seeing that influence the spirit and culture of society today. This channel is not only an opportunity for people to share content that they’re passionate about, but it’s also a form of “watercooler talk” while we’re working remotely. – Melissa Shin Mash, Dagne Dover

Foster ‘Creative Courage’

Foster a culture of creative courage. Empower your team to take a risk and try something new, knowing that the goal is not just about success or failure, but about learning and growing. – Michael Klein, Miraculo Inc.

Offer Small Bonuses Tied to Specific Goals

In these times, it’s important to help employees transcend the busy work and focus their limited energy on tasks that will truly move the needle. This year I initiated a “mini bonus” structure tied to one or two very specific monthly targets. This keeps my team motivated and gives them a way to earn more now instead of waiting until year-end. – Lisa Weser, Trailblaze

Flatten Your Corporate Structure

Favor a flat corporate structure over a hierarchical corporate structure. Treat teams like they are their own business. Hold them accountable for staying on budget (aka investment) but also reward them for success. Make sure each team member knows they have an ownership stake in the success of each project. – Erik Rind, ImagineBC

Take a Chance on Unproven Ideas

Pandemic or not, the road map to success is the same. Failure is still the way to succeed and continuing to empower innovation at the risk of failure is still the formula. It may be less of the operating budget, but still a most important part of development. Remind yourself that you got to where you are today by taking a chance on an unproven idea. It’s onward and upward. – Stephanie Dillon, Stephanie Dillon Art

Figure Out How to Solve Consumers’ Current Problems

The pandemic has revealed new consumer behaviors, needs and problems to solve. Take a step back and look at all of those along with what your brand, products and services have to offer. Remember what your brand is about and try to connect dots between the abstract and more meaningful part of your brand to the new behaviors and needs you are seeing arise. New and relevant solutions await! – Buck Wimberly, ULAH, LLC / ULAH Interiors + Design, LLC

Be Transparent

Remain transparent with your employees. If they are fearful for their jobs during the pandemic, then you should be too. Stay honest with your crew about monthly projections. Innovation is a driving factor for new business, so show the correlation between innovation and growth. It will be an encouraging factor for job security and also a cultivator for better business professionals. – Wes Meyers, Burning Tractor

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