11 Ideas for Rewarding Innovation in the Workplace
- Reward Innovation With Responsibility
- Make Freedom an Office Essential
- Actually Reward Failure
- Flexible Working
- Tangible Rewards
- Don’t Ignore Effort
- Reward the Team
- Work Away from Work
- Offer Promotions
- Reward Them Consistently
- Ask Your Team What They Want
Innovation is a concept that many leaders strive for but few actually manage to achieve in their workplace.
There’s no doubting the benefits of innovation in business. When looking at some of the most successful organisations in history, it’s clear they are not afraid to think differently and to innovate at every opportunity.
The reason innovation in the workplace is hard to achieve is because it can’t be done alone. It takes a team to innovate and change the way an organisation operates in the long-term.
So, now we know why it takes a team to innovate, how do you encourage your team to think differently?
1. Reward Innovation With Responsibility
If a team member has an innovative idea, give them the freedom to take the idea forward, without feeling like they’re putting their professional neck on the line.
The first step to innovation is creating an accepting environment where employees feel they can come up with new ideas and challenge convention. If someone has a great idea, give them the responsibility to execute it themselves.
One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is taking a great idea and delegating it to someone else. Think how they’ll feel if their idea is executed by someone else - or worse - executed poorly. By trusting them to carry the innovation forward themselves, you reward them with empowerment in their role. In this way, you’re signalling that you want new ideas and are willing to put your faith in the people who come up with them.
So, allowing them to see their idea implemented from start to finish can be a great encouragement for developing future ideas and inspiring innovation.
2. Make Freedom an Office Essential
Creating an environment built around freedom is at the core of being an affiliative leader.
If you’re unsure, an affiliative leader is someone who gives his/her team the freedom to succeed and fail in equal value. Affiliative leadership encourages innovation and, by giving your team more freedom as a reward for their innovation, you encourage further creative thinking in their roles.
It’s widely known that micro-managing stifles creative thinking and suppresses innovation. If you don’t encourage free-thinking in the workplace, by taking a step back in your role as an affiliative leader, you’ll never create an environment where your team can think for themselves and generate new ways of working.
Many instances of innovation are inspired by quick thinking. By giving your team the freedom to solve their own problems, you inspire them to be more innovative.
3. Actually Reward Failure
Hear me out on this one. I know it sounds counterintuitive. To reward failure when looking to boost performance?
However, if you don’t encourage your team to be daring and risk failure, you won’t build a culture of innovation, you’ll build a culture of mediocrity. By taking your encouragement of innovation one step further and actually rewarding your team when they fail, you create an environment where they aren’t afraid to fail.
If the idea of rewarding failure is still a little hard to swallow, try looking at it this way. You’re not rewarding the outcome, you’re rewarding the creative process. And why not! One of your team came up with something new and had the courage to try it out. That should be celebrated.
Don’t worry about creating a culture of failure. Despite being rewarded for a lack of success, people simply don’t like to keep failing in their roles - especially when they played an active role in coming up the idea. By providing a safety net, if their ideas don’t work out, you eliminate any fears they might have.
The fear of failure is where great ideas go to die.
4. Flexible Working
If flexible working isn’t something that you already do, it’s time you started. It can be a great way to reward your team for being innovative.
Did you know, according to a Powownow survey in 2017, 67% of workers wish they were offered flexible working and 70% of workers feel jobs that offer flexible working are more attractive.
By giving your team more flexibility in their roles, you signal that your number one priority is achieving great results, not whether someone is a couple of minutes late for work. Giving more control back to your team so they can determine the finer details of their roles is a great way to inspire innovation and make them feel valued in their team.
5. Tangible Rewards
This one might not be what you think it is. When we think of rewards for performance, many leaders automatically think of financial incentives.
What I mean by tangible rewards is less about overt financial bonuses but, rather, providing them with something they can touch or at least experience, like a trophy or a work night out.
It may sound cheesy, but this is the difference between reward and recognition. While recognition is definitely important to inspire your teams to keep innovating, providing a reward that they can actually see and feel is important as a physical representation of their good work.
Offering financial rewards is a dangerous game. This is because innovation and ideas can’t be pinned down to a definite worth and the monetary value of the reward might not be seen to add up. By offering a reward that doesn’t align with the perceived worth of the innovation, you risk your teams losing their motivation to innovate.
6. Don’t Ignore Effort
This is very important.
Yes, you want to see results and you want to reward those team members who deliver those results through innovation. All the while you might be rewarding those who fail in order to create an environment where they aren’t afraid to be daring.
Great! But what about those who are left in the middle? Those team members who are trying to be innovative and neither failing nor succeeding?
It’s so important not to forget about these members or you risk losing their efforts to be innovative in the future. Creating an environment where you reward members who succeed, fail or otherwise (as long as they try) is a great way to be inclusive of everyone regardless of results.
It may take a little extra effort to keep track of what everyone is doing, but it means no one on your team is left stagnating. These middle team members might be the ones to succeed with their innovation next time and you don’t want to discourage them from trying.
7. Reward the Team
When a member of a team is achieving great results, you might be tempted to reward that individual to encourage others to follow suit. Before you do, though, take a second to think about who else might have had a positive impact. Is that individual part of a team? If they are, providing an individual reward might not be the way to go.
If you reward members of a group, and not the group itself, you could create a culture where team members compete with each other instead of support one another.
This might sound great but what you really want is a team that works together and develops innovation as part of a collective effort. It might only take one person to come up with an idea, but you need a team to implement it.
By setting up rewards to include every member of the team, you create a positive employee experience as well as motivating them to work collectively towards innovation. Individual team members will be more likely to encourage one another to be creative if they know that each member’s efforts to be innovative contributes to team reward.
8. Work Away from Work
This reward works well with flexible working. By providing your team with the incentive to be flexible, not only when they work but where they work, you give them the freedom that can inspire further innovation.
Offering flexible work arrangements as an incentive for creative and innovative thinking can help to freshen up the working environment. Team members can take some time away from their normal workspace and return fresher and more motivated to be innovative in the future
Every member of your team is unique and they’ll each respond to different incentives. So, providing rewards like this as an option is a great way to incentivise and reward those who might not place as much value in financial or other benefits.
9. Offer Promotions
If you see a team member who is consistently generating brilliant ideas and driving the team forward through innovation, it makes perfect sense to promote them to a position where they can have more of an input in the organisation.
All too often, businesses adopt a ‘next taxicab off the rank’ approach to promotions, where the person to move up the ladder only does so because they’ve been there longest. By promoting the innovative members of your team, you’re putting them in a position where they can have a real impact.
This helps retain the best-performing members of the team and offers an example to the other members of what could happen to them if they follow suit.
Promotions often come with a pay-rise but, by simply rewarding innovative people with more responsibility and direct input into the organisation, you encourage the team to be innovatively driven.
10. Reward Them Consistently
The consistency and fairness you demonstrate when rewarding innovative team members is so important.
If you are inconsistent with the frequency at which you offer rewards, your team might begin to be demotivated when it comes to continually innovating. If they are unaware of when the next reward is coming, they’ll be less likely to be motivated to think innovatively.
Innovation can be a difficult thing to quantify. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself in the position of rewarding one member of your team for being innovative while overlooking another whose ideas lead to that innovation.
If you’re rewarding large-scale innovation such as the development of a new process, you should, at the same time, make sure you’re rewarding small-scale innovation - maybe something that improves the working environment and leads to a better employee experience. This means that those team members with less responsibility are still encouraged to innovate.
When your team knows the format of the reward system, they are better able to work towards that structure and deliver the kind of innovative results you’re looking for. This might come in the form of an annual awards night or a monthly team award with different levels of rewards for different types of innovation. Whatever it is, make sure your team knows when they’ll see, and what they can expect from, the reward system.
11. Ask Your Team What They Want
This is such an undervalued aspect of great leadership. As I mentioned before, every member of your team is unique and whatever reward you offer them will not appeal to each one of them in the same way.
A great way to individually tailor your rewards to each member is to ask them for their input. Opening up a dialogue with your team to see what kinds of things motivate them and what gives them the freedom to think creatively is one of the best ways to find incentives that work for everyone.
In order to encourage innovation in the workplace, you need to keep your employees in the loop when it comes to how they’re incentivised.
What you must remember, when it comes to innovation, is that it’s not something you can force, you can only encourage it. Some team members will naturally be more creative than others and will be more forthcoming with ideas.
While encouraging innovation, make sure you don’t demonise those team members who aren’t innovating as much. As long as you open up the opportunity to unleash innovation with some of these ideas, you’ll see your team work together to create a culture of continuous innovation that boosts team performance.