4 Ways to Drive Internal Innovation and Unleash Employees’ Entrepreneurial Side

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Innovation is the key to a successful business, but it shouldn’t be the responsibility of a specific individual or group. Every team member has the potential to become an entrepreneur, after all, and it’s up to their employers to fuel this ambition. The payoff of this startup mindset will almost inevitably be new products and services that drive incremental revenue, and can even disrupt an entire industry, as well as an enhanced company culture.

This requires, however, offering the space and time for teams and individuals to innovate, along with an environment in which they’re free to fail as well as succeed. Here are four ways businesses can create it:

1. Hire lifelong learners

A culture of invention starts with the hiring process. Organizations should look to hire individuals who not only excel in skills that will directly impact their success in a specific role, but who also have an inherent desire to learn and grow. So, ask questions beyond the norm, such as,  “What have you recently learned that’s outside of your day-to-day work?” or “What is your favorite podcast?” These give insight into level of curiosity and the drive to absorb new information, and can help you understand what they’re passionate about beyond what they do professionally.

2. Encourage the sharing of new ideas 

Team members need a platform to share thoughts with the wider organization, otherwise they’ll keep potentially valuable contributions to themselves. And even if an offered idea isn’t “the one”, it can still set off a search journey for another one that is.

Company leaders can encourage a regular stream of insights through weekly brainstorms, an ongoing email thread or even a Slack channel. And while some staff members might be eager to share them with a larger group, others may respond better to one-on-ones, so it’s important to cater to what works for each individual. For example, at my company we established The Innovation Fund and Lab, which allows internal inventors to experiment, to develop ideas beyond our core products, without the need to generate immediate revenue.

Related: 4 Ways You Can Create a Culture of Ownership

3. Create a workplace that people love

A space where people work in an environment without judgement or fear is one where innovation thrives. One way to create that is to build bonds among employees through activities both inside and out of the office, such as eating together or playing a game of pool. These moments can also occur remotely with virtual happy hours and game nights. Another way of building connections is by integrating personal conversations into meetings. At the beginning of one, each team member could, for example, share a personal note with the team, which could be about weekend plans, or simply that they cooked a new meal for dinner.

Another part of creating a place where people love to work is making sure employees are recognized when they do good work. They’ll not only feel appreciated, but gain confidence in their role, which will inspire them to work (and innovate) even harder. 

 4. Offer innovation autonomy

Invention is often born out of giving people the freedom to reach a goal on their own; when they are given a problem with little to no direction on how to solve it, I’ve found that they come up with innovative solutions. And what they discover along the way might inspire new processes or products. 

Company-led events like hackathons also provide employees with an opportunity to push the envelope and innovate, either by themselves or with a team. Even if this turns out to be a time for them to focus on passion projects of their own, it might also get them thinking creatively about ways to approach internal issues, which turns into company-focused innovation.

Related: If You Want More Lasting Creativity on Your Team, You Need to Rethink Your Approach