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Innovate at Work: 10 Strategies for Creative Culture

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Pop Quiz: What do 3M's Post-It Notes, Nintendo's Game Boy and Kellogg's Corn Flakes all have in common? The answer: They are all the result of innovative, experimental employees driving creativity in the workplace.

The Post-It Note came about after 3M engineers were tasked with developing a super-strong adhesive for building airplanes; instead, they created a weak adhesive that peeled off without leaving any residue. The Game Boy came about after Nintendo's president responded to the research and development team's request to create a handheld device for interchangeable games. And the Corn Flakes were a happy accident caused by letting rolled wheat dough sit overnight, creating the flakes we all know and love.

While the origins of these groundbreaking products vary, they all share a common denominator that our guide explores: the relentless pursuit of creative thinking and the commitment to driving innovation in the workplace.

What does innovation look like in the workplace?

Innovation in the workplace is about anticipating future challenges or opportunities that may arise for your company. From here, you develop innovative products, processes or ideas to prepare and position your company for success.

In the "This HR Life" podcast, Ron Storn, Chief People and Business Operations Officer at Booster, defines innovation as accepting that there is a better way of doing things, not maintaining the status quo and always focusing on customer needs ". But what does that look like in practice?

President and CEO Normand Chevrette described how an innovative employee boosted company performance at CME Corp. by developing a remote monitoring system that detected equipment problems in real time.

In addition to this real-world example, there are numerous other ways innovation can transform your core business, such as:

  • Product development: Developing solutions that address changing customer needs or problems and address new market trends.
  • Customer Experience: Delivering exceptional customer service through a seamless, personalized experience.
  • Data and Analytics: Relying on data to gain valuable insights, make data-driven decisions, and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Supply Chain Management: Implementing new approaches to manage the supply chain more ethically and effectively, ensuring on-time delivery and lower inventory costs.
  • Business collaborations: Building strategic partnerships with other innovative companies to open up new markets or pool know-how.
  • Sustainability: Developing new products or processes that reinforce your commitment to a greener future.
  • Digital Innovation: Using or developing the latest technologies to improve efficiency and set your business up for success.

What does the innovation mentality look like?

Innovation is not limited to entrepreneurs and executives; every employee at every organizational level can take part. However, this requires adopting a specific innovation mindset that encompasses a set of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that strive for continuous improvement within your organization. In practice, this innovation mentality means a willingness to:

  • To explore new ideas
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Seeing failure as a stepping stone to success
  • Favoring long-term results over short-term successes
  • To overcome rigid hierarchies

The “growth mindset” is an important part of innovation in the workplace. It was propagated by psychologist Carol S. Dweck, who believed that people can develop their skills and abilities through dedication and hard work.

This view contrasts with a "fixed mindset" in which individuals assume that their characteristics are innate and unchangeable. Employees who adopt a growth mindset are more likely to see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow, which leads to more innovative thinking and adaptability among both employees and companies.

What are the benefits of promoting innovation in the workplace?

Innovation is a strategic imperative for companies that want to stay ahead of the curve. If your core business takes an innovative approach, you can:

1.Gain a competitive advantage

Companies that want to remain relevant in one, three or five years must make a concerted effort to innovate and differentiate themselves from the competition. Developing unique products, services or processes and fostering a culture of innovation leads to greater market share and stronger customer loyalty.

2.Improve products and services for customers

Before the COVID-19 study, only 19% of US and 25% of European workers strongly agreed that they involve customers in improving their products and services. But the Gallup study highlights one of the few benefits that have emerged from the pandemic: Businesses have become more creative in the face of disruption. Companies that collected customer feedback, gained detailed insights, and developed ideas accordingly were rewarded with higher customer satisfaction and retention.

3.Increase output

Innovative ideas often lead to more efficient workflows and processes. By encouraging employees to think creatively and find better ways of doing things, companies can streamline their operations, eliminate redundancies and improve overall productivity.

For example, Carly Hill, operations manager at Virtual Holiday Party, describes an outstanding employee who took the initiative to automate many administrative tasks, from sending feedback forms to employees after the event to connecting Slack channels with payment platforms to simplify reporting.

4.Increase employee engagement

Employees feel more engaged and valued when they are encouraged to contribute ideas and participate in innovation. This is a cyclical process, as a Chinese study of working millennials found that highly engaged employees are also more likely to demonstrate innovative work behavior.

10 Ways to Promote Innovation in the Workplace

Every company wants to encourage innovation in the workplace, but finding time for forward-thinking while dealing with short-term goals is a constant challenge. Employees may not feel like they have permission to think outside the box, and management often struggles to prioritize innovation over more pressing goals.

Here are ten ways to set clear expectations for innovation and ensure your company culture is poised for creative success:

1.Cultivate an innovative mindset

Some people are naturally innovative, while others have a hard time getting into their creative zone. However, innovation expert Nils Vesk emphasizes that innovation is for everyone and can be integrated into every area of a company.

In his podcast HR in Review, Elvin Turner, executive innovation coach and best-selling author, advises teaching your employees the basics of innovation flow. The steps in this process are:

  1. Learning how to recognize a great insight, e.g. Data that represents an opportunity.
  2. Learning how to transform insights into nuanced questions, e.g. by developing and presenting your idea to stimulate further discussion and investigation.
  3. Test your ideas. Recognize that the company cannot invest in everything and therefore conduct experiments to decide which ideas to support with resources.
  4. Scaling innovation and integrating it into your business processes, product line or other critical areas.

2.Create time and space for innovation

In an ideal world, your company offers a culture of innovation that is practiced daily by every team member at every level of your organization:

  • Incorporate innovation into your monthly and quarterly plans
  • Weekly meetings to review who is working on what task and what results have been achieved
  • Incorporating innovation into regular feedback discussions and performance reviews

For innovation to become the cultural norm, it is important to consciously create an environment where everyone feels free to innovate without worrying that it will be inconvenient or slow down daily workflows.

3.Embrace creativity

Creativity comes in many forms, from planning a new process to developing a product or service for customers. It is important that you give these ideas space to develop. To ensure your team feels comfortable expressing their creativity, create an open communication culture:

  • Creating dedicated spaces where employees can share their ideas in an unbiased manner
  • Encouraging free brainstorming and suggestion box sessions
  • Set up idea tracking processes so that good suggestions don't get lost

4.Encouraging risk-taking and failure

Playing it safe isn't conducive to innovation - it doesn't allow companies to meaningfully explore new ideas. Instead, innovation requires an open approach to taking risks, even if this inevitably leads to making mistakes.

IceHrm Tip: Read our article, “Avoid These 12 Common Employee Recognition Mistakes to Increase Team Success,” which takes a closer look at the role of failure in employee retention. This article describes how the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly hosts regular failure parties to "celebrate smart, high-quality scientific experiments that fail to produce desired results."

5.Plan your goals

Vague goals and objectives can lead to confusion and uncertainty around innovation. It's important to focus on your overall goals while setting smaller milestones to track progress and evaluate success. Start by outlining the big picture of your desired outcome, then create an actionable roadmap for each step you need to take to achieve that goal.

6.Rely on metrics

As with any other aspect of business, data is critical to driving innovation. The IDC study "Future of Intelligence" shows that the leaders in enterprise intelligence

  • 2.7 times more likely to experience high revenue growth in 2020-2023
  • 3.6x more likely to accelerate the launch of new products, services, experiences and initiatives.

The selection of metrics must be tailored to your business goals, but could include some of the following:

  • Customer feedback and customer satisfaction scores: Analyzing customer feedback, surveys and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to understand customer needs, pain points and overall satisfaction with products or services.
  • Market Trends and Competitor Analysis: Collect data on market trends, industry benchmarks, and competitor performance to identify gaps and opportunities for innovation.
  • Employee feedback and ideation: Obtaining employee feedback through surveys or ideation platforms to harness employee creativity and find innovative ideas.
  • ROI for innovation investments: Measuring the return on investment (ROI) for innovation projects and initiatives to assess their impact on the company's bottom line.
  • Time to market and product development: Track the time it takes to develop and launch new products or features, as well as the success rate of product launches.

7.Building relationships in a collaborative work environment

Innovation shouldn’t happen in silos. Depending on the concept or idea being explored, it is often necessary for cross-functional teams to come together. But how is that supposed to work? Ron Storn explains how to get multiple parties on board using the example of merging operations and development teams.

Psychologists Chris Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., and Eric Haseltine, Ph.D., demonstrate the value of informal relationship building in the workplace. Strong trust relationships between colleagues create a psychologically safe space that motivates people to try new behaviors and adopt new ways of thinking. Gilbert and Haseltine believe that these loose, informal connections in the workplace are more important to innovation than elements such as creativity and divergent thinking.

8.Lean On Sponsorship

Sponsoring innovation is about finding people who are committed to it:

  • Support your projects with available resources
  • Achieve cross-departmental acceptance
  • Communicate ideas with the rest of the team

Sponsors can use a framework to foster a high-performing culture of innovation and extend it across cross-functional teams and the entire organization. Ron suggests that sponsors review historical innovations to work on future opportunities:

  • Looking at projects or goals from the past that didn't work
  • Testing new ideas
  • Iterate and monitor results
  • Scaling innovations as they achieve their goals

9.Innovation training for managers

Although innovation should be a company-wide initiative, leadership plays a critical role in encouraging creativity and ensuring it is always at the forefront of your teams. But few leaders receive specialized training that enables them to understand the impact of their leadership on innovation.

10.Focus on the future, today

Innovation is a broad term, and it can be difficult for business leaders and individual employees to know what to innovate. The key is to focus on the future of your business, which can mean:

  • Track industry news to anticipate market movements
  • Predicting business development and customer needs for the next 1-5 years
  • Expansion or conversion to new business areas
  • Exploring new technologies to develop innovative products, services or processes that have never existed before
  • Analyzing data to determine customer expectations and needs

3 Real World Examples of Innovation in the Workplace

Innovation is in the eye of the beholder - it means something different to everyone. Nevertheless, these real-world examples of innovative practices have undoubtedly achieved phenomenal results for their respective companies, customers and society at large.


Ford powertrain control engineer Doug Martin was inspired by a billboard in Lima, Peru, that converted the city's humid air into drinking water for the local community. He realized that condensation from a car's air conditioning wasted up to 1.9 liters of excess fluid per hour and developed a solution to turn it into clean drinking water. Now Doug Martin's invention, On-The-Go H2O, means drivers don't have to buy bottled water on long road trips, reducing the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfills.


Amazon is known for bringing innovation to the world, and this passion for invention is embedded in the company's core values. Amazon employees are encouraged to explore all ideas, whether related to their work or not. To advance their innovation efforts, they are encouraged to work backwards by committing to the PRFAQ process, which includes:

  • Writing a press release outlining the vision for an innovative product
  • Create a list of FAQs describing customer benefits and theoretical customer questions
  • Share the PRFAQ with other Amazon innovators

The best ideas receive funding for a formal market launch to join popular solutions such as Amazon's Alexa, Prime or Kindle.


Googler Krishna Bharat founded Google News after becoming frustrated trying to find relevant news articles during the September 11, 2001, attacks. Bharat noticed that Google's search results appeared chaotic and contained a mix of old and new articles, making it difficult for users to get up-to-date information in real time. Recognizing the need to better aggregate and organize news from different sources, he proposed creating a news portal that would automatically collect and arrange news articles based on their relevance and timeliness.

Google News officially launched on September 22, 2002, just a year after 9/11, and stood out from other news portals with its algorithmic approach to news aggregation. It was one of the first examples of personalized news curation based on user interests and behavior.

Innovation isn't just a buzzword; it's the lifeblood of success in the modern workplace. By fostering a culture of creativity, embracing risk-taking, and investing in innovation training, companies can stay ahead of the curve. Let IceHrm help you unlock the potential of innovation in your organization today!

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