While it may not seem like something to plan for, you can implement strategies to leverage employee communication and generate exciting ideas and solutions for your small business. The next great idea could emerge from within your own ranks — specifically, the people who work on the front lines, interact with your customers and have a deep understanding of how well your products or services meet the needs of the individuals you wish to serve.
Regardless of the current quality of what you provide, your customers will still want (and expect) enhancements, according to Fortune. Business climates never stay the same for long, and your employees will always have ideas worth exploring. The following steps can motivate your workers to devise fresh ideas as well as encourage them to submit their thoughts for your consideration:
Implement Flexible Work Schedules
Employees who feel chained to a rigid work schedule aren't naturally inclined to start thinking outside the box. An increasing number of U.S. small businesses are implementing some form of flex-work schedule — and not just to appeal to new generations of job candidates who seek a better balance of life and work. If your employees aren't watching the clock in anticipation of the end of the workday, they have the mental "elbow room" to focus on business-related challenges and come up with solutions you might never have thought of yourself.
Encourage Creativity by Actively Listening
In buttoned-down work cultures, employees do what they're hired to do, and any deviation from this routine can trigger unease and uncertainty throughout the workplace. A better option is encouraging your managers to become active listeners, who happily welcome employee ideas and suggestions.
Entrepreneur recommends establishing a policy of hearing out every new idea, even ones you consider extraneous or bad. Additionally, the publication notes that "you don't have to act on them, but you do have to value them, give honest feedback and reward employees for bringing them up."
As time goes by, this kind of enhanced employee communication can become an ingrained part of your culture. You'll benefit from a wealth of employee insights and ideas, while also differentiating your business in terms of employee recruitment and retention.
Foster Teamwork and Collaborative Problem-Solving
People love bouncing ideas off one another. Find ways to devote time and space for a team of talented employees to let their imaginations run free. For example, a room's seating arrangement can affect the quantity and quality of employee ideas.
Instead of the traditional "square" seating, have employees sit in a circle. There's an implied equality to this arrangement that eliminates any feelings of hierarchy and encourages everyone to feel they're part of a new "idea machine."
Promote Diversity Within Your Workforce
It stands to reason that if all of your employees come from the same demographic and socio-economic background, they're likely going to think in the same ways. Genuine creativity comes from people with different backgrounds, abilities and passions.
Expand your hiring team by including a manager or veteran employee to evaluate job applications and participate in the interview process. This can offset any unconscious biases you (or whomever is in charge of hiring) may have about the "right" kind of job candidate. Honest feedback among a small team can highlight (and discourage) any discriminatory tendencies that result in onboarding more of the same new hires.
There's no concrete plan for getting the best ideas from your staff. Implementing these steps, however, can lead to the kind of employee creativity that generates the next great idea for your small business.