Startups are iconic hotbeds for innovation and creativity. Small, entrepreneurial-minded companies often depend on lean and mean concepts such as change, improvement, and modernization in order to stand out from their well-established competitors.
However, innovative activities like these typically don’t exist in a vacuum. They take root through thoughtful leadership and thrive over time via sustained focus and energy.
If you own or are part of a startup that is struggling to maintain that innovative spirit, here are a few tips to help you get that creative spark going again.
1. Cultivate Company Culture
Even when you’re collectively operating within a remote work culture — as is the case for many enterprises during the COVID-19 pandemic — each member of your team should understand that their part of something bigger than their individual labor. This collective mentality feeds into your overall company culture, which can often make or break your innovative spirit.
When it comes to fostering good company culture, it’s important to realize that this doesn’t just consist of communicating vision and values. It also requires aspects such as:
- A clear understanding of how your staff is expected to interact — both internally with one another and externally with clients and customers.
- Buy-in to beliefs about how your company views its customers and employees.
- A firm understanding of why your company uses certain methods and systems.
- Clearly defined benchmarks for success (beyond your bottom line) such as maintaining a customer-centric business model or accomplishing corporate social responsibility initiatives.
The list of what makes a good company culture can go on and on.
The main takeaway here is that if you want to foster innovation within your company, it’s critical that both you and your entire staff clearly understand and participate in your company’s culture. Only then can you begin to innovate and create in the same, positive direction that will benefit your company as a whole.
2. Establish Clear Communication Channels
Communication has always been the life-blood of a properly functioning workplace, and in the remote-heave, post-coronavirus era, it remains absolutely essential to success. With most employees working from the isolation of their own homes, quality communication helps your team members share information, maintain teamwork, and collaborate towards shared goals.
On top of that, clear and simple forms of communication are essential tomaintaining innovation. Without the ability to easily share thoughts, vet each others’ ideas, and collectively brainstorm, creativity becomes disconnected and uncoordinated. When you lack the proper channels to communicate innovative concepts, your staff’s fresh ideas are left to stagnate as they remain cubbyholed in each of your employee’s home offices.
If you want to maintain an innovative spirit within your rank and file, look for applications and activities that facilitate the sharing of thoughts and ideas. This can be as simple as a shared Google doc or DropBox folder or it can be more deliberate in nature, such as planning a brainstorming session over video chat or setting up a virtual idea board to house your team’s creative residue.
3. Foster a Growth Mindset
Innovation tends to struggle when you operate with a fixed mindset culture. A “fixed mindset” company culture accepts that individual traits and native abilities are inherent and cannot be significantly improved or changed.
If you want to encourage innovation, it’s important that you adopt a growth mindset culture instead. That is a company culture that revolves around the concept that individuals can develop their intelligence, talents, and abilities through perpetual learning, curiosity, and discipline.
In other words, if you want creativity to remain alive and well in your startup, you and your employees must approach your work with the mindset that, no matter how perfect, it can always be improved. Methods, products, interactions, communications, software — you name it. Nothing that you currently use to operate is above reproach.
Encourage your staff to always be looking for avenues of improvement. This goes a long way toward naturally keeping the flame of innovation alive and well.
4. Know Your Industry, Customers, and Competition
One of the simplest ways to feed the fires of innovation is through information. While this can come from a myriad of different places, there are three primary sources of information that should be continually sought out:
Information About Your Industry
You may know your industry backward and forward at the moment, but no field is immune to the current state of rapid evolution ever-prevalent throughout the business world. Always keep an eye out for game-changing news and information that significantly impacts your industry. Then, when something pops up, consider how it can impact your current business operations.
Information About Your Customers
Understanding your customers is a key element to sustained success, according to MarketResearch.com. If you don’t thoroughly understand who your audience is, what their interests are, and what challenges they face, it’s difficult to craft solutions (or tailor your existing solutions) to meet their needs. Take the time to craft detailed buyer personas for your business (if you haven’t already) and then make an effort to keep these updated through perpetual market research and customer feedback. The knowledge can feed the fires of innovation as you seek out cutting-edge solutions to your customers’ current problems.
Information About Your Competition
Your competitors may be a threat, but they should also demand your respect. If another company is managing to succeed within your industry, it’s worth taking the time to study what factors are leading to their success. That’s why, along with customers and your industry as a whole, it’s worth taking the time to regularly scope out your competition. Look for what methods they’re using in their marketing, their most popular products or product features, and what their customer feedback looks like. All of this can help gauge what you should — and shouldn’t — be doing as you innovate and improve within your own operation.
5. Empower and Reward
Finally, remember that incentives are important in the innovation game. If you want your employees to invest themselves in developing and improving your company, consider management methods that actively acknowledge their investments and encourage their creativity over time. For instance, you can:
- Empower employees by delegating, trusting, and allowing them to take ownership of their work.
- Provide monetary incentives — a time-tested reward— for innovation.
- Specifically, highlight individual achievement — when asked, public acknowledgment is the number one form of recognition preferred by employees.
By empowering employees to take ownership of their work and then publicly pointing out and praising innovation when it takes place, you provide a powerful incentive for your staff to participate in and strive for improvement.
Whether you’re empowering your employees, encouraging a growth mindset, maintaining healthy communication, or generally fostering a healthy company culture, there are many ways to keep innovation alive and well within your startup.
The most critical aspect of all, though, is that you, as a leader, take your company’s innovative spirit by the reigns. Rather than waiting for creativity to decline, actively take steps now to feed the fires of innovation within your company. Only then can you expect to reap the benefits of increased creativity and ingenuity both in the present and far into the future.