innovation and creativity in 2021

The events of 2020 have highlighted the criticality of building a committed workforce across every organization. Commitment and excellence cannot happen in silos anymore, particularly because the employees themselves are working in silos.

As the phenomenon of isolation has occurred on a global scale, people are bombarded with eloquent speeches and well-written taglines about how ‘we are all in this together.’ Ironic right? Never before in history would people have struggled with a similar set of challenges, and yet as human beings we never felt lonelier.

When faced with a threat, the human brain generally shifts into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Since neither is an option, it appears that most of us have shifted instead into a ‘survival mode’. Most people have taken to art, new projects, and hobbies for that. Whoever can have immersed themselves in their work. However, for HRs and Business leaders, the sudden shift into remote working, without sufficient preparation, has triggered its own unique set of challenges, the least of them being logistical.

Also Read: Tips To Manage Stress Of Your Remote Team

The reports of employee burnouts and employee disengagement are consistent throughout. Disengagement is always a cause for alarm at any workplace at any given time. At the corporate level, however, things have become trickier. 

As 2020 progressed and events transpired, it became increasingly evident that the world as we know it is forever going to change. Innovation is no longer just a good-to-have strategy, it has suddenly become a necessity for the survival of these businesses. Unfortunately, though, the source of innovation is collectively battling large scale disengagement and isolation.

But the machines have to continue moving, and the cogs have to be oiled frequently enough. Among the business community, a large chunk of that responsibility falls on the ‘people managers’ i.e. the HRs, business leaders, team leads, and such. The question is simple enough. 

How do we create a culture of innovation and creativity in an era of isolation and disengagement?

The answer is a little tricky.

Show The Bigger Picture

Financial performance is crucial, but no one likes to be reminded that their efforts serve very little beyond hitting the core financial metrics. People like to believe they work for a larger purpose, even if it’s limited to assisting the team next to them. Sure the numbers are important, but if boosting employee engagement is your mission, you will need to use more than just financial outcomes as your motivators.

For business leaders, it all comes down to how you communicate. If a larger part of the communication is restricted to ‘meet the numbers’ narratives, it builds a superficial relationship with their employees. Instead, reminding them of the organization’s larger purpose and their role in it. It validates their effort and equips them with the all-crucial sense of purpose. 

Not to mention, the more an employee identifies with a larger mission, the more likely they are to go the extra mile.

Provide a sense of belonging

In the post-2020 era, a sense of belonging within the workplace is a necessity and not merely for the sake of good vibes and friendships. Gartner’s research shows that organizations with sustainable D&I initiatives demonstrate a 20% increase in inclusion, which corresponds to greater on-the-job effort and intent to stay, as well as high employee performance. Needless to say, belongingness goes beyond the basic identity politics as well.

But even the best diversity and inclusion policies won’t suffice if corporates fail to include a sense of belongingness into the equation. People today need to feel like they are ‘needed’ as a crucial member of a community. They need to understand that the organization cares for them for who they are, and it goes beyond their daily performance. 

This is a lot easier to implement than one may assume. Oftentimes, recognizing the employees for their daily effort goes a long way in helping them feel a sense of belongingness. But along with their effort, people also need the assurance that their opinions and identity matters too.

This practice can potentially have a direct impact on the bottom line as well. Employees at the lower level are more often in touch with the organization’s problems and possibilities and can identify small issues before they spiral out of control–thereby making their opinions extremely valuable.

Also Read: OKR Goal Setting For Successful Businesses

As leaders, practice candor and give employees the space to share honest opinions. To develop a candid environment, start by identifying why employees hesitate in the first place. Just as important, it is demonstrating that this is indeed a safe space to share feedback.

Cultivate psychological safety

Too often the most innovative of innovations started from absurdist ideas. History is littered with stories of successful ‘accidental discoveries’ from the R&D department (3Ms introduction of the famous sticky note is the perfect example of this).  

If any of these mistakes or crazy ideas had been dismissed, we would not have a sticky note or a microwave in existence. Most often, HRs included, people fail to realize the importance of providing a psychologically safe environment and its direct impact on fostering creativity. 

There is always the risk of making a mistake that prevents people. But that’s precisely why psychological safety is crucial within the workplace. Providing a psychologically safe environment means (among other things) allowing people to be freely creative while recognizing that some ideas will be risky. That’s not to say that mistakes will not happen. Rather, the approach needs to shift from ‘I cannot afford to take such a risk’ to ‘Okay that’s got a risk involved, so what can we do to make sure that we catch it before we suffer too much from the outcome?’ It also involves a great deal of trust towards your employees.

Trust does not mean providing free reign to your team either. Needless to say, establishing the grounds for creative accountability is critical, along with clear-communication of the boundaries to work with. Ultimately, it means shifting the narrative to ‘my team knows what’s needed for delivering practical products and processes that can be manufactured affordably’; and then communicating that trust to the team. 

Excessive emphasis on budgets and deadlines will potentially kill ideas before they take flight. 

As we settle into the half-year mark of 2021, it is quite evident that the changes are here to stay – be it at a socio-political level (the black lives matter movement comes to mind), the environmental (so many forest fires!), or at the economical one(the disrupted industries, unemployment, large-scale recession, etc.). The ones who resist the notion are the ones who will invariably be left behind. 

Also Read: Diversity And Inclusion In the Workplace – Benefits

While the importance of innovation at a global scale has never been more highlighted, individually, everyone continues to struggle with working in a state of ‘survival mode’.  

So as HRs and Business leaders, how do we navigate the path to reach the end of the tunnel? Ultimately, over and above all the points discussed above, it comes down to compassion and empathy. The answer is pretty obvious. Practicing it is the challenge.