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Infuse Creativity Into Your Culture and Boost Performance

Infuse Creativity Into Your Culture and Boost Performance

Many of today’s most successful companies are described as innovators and disruptors. These companies are developing cultures to encourage change and creativity, which historically have been ideas organizations shy away from.

What is the culture of your company? Are you encouraging change and creativity with your people? Or are you feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the change being forced upon you? With the wave of change hitting the business environment, innovation is becoming a key to success. This means:

  1. Cultivating an open-minded environment for your team.
  2. Viewing innovation as an experiment.
  3. Encouraging an environment where action is not prevented by the possibility of failure.
  4. Recognizing that failure provides opportunities to learn and grow.

While no one likes to fail at anything, failing shows we are trying. As leaders, it is up to us to learn from missteps and encourage our teams to keep trying.

The first step is to stop using the crutch, “Because we’ve always done it that way.” Instead, change your thinking to, “How could we make it work?” If your company has cultivated “best practices” to lean on, these could be acting as roadblocks to your future.

Develop an owner’s view of how the past has affected the present and dictates the future. This shapes culture, impacts the organization’s ability to plan strategically, and optimizes opportunities in the marketplace. A culture that does not nurture forward thinking from its people jeopardizes long-term business success and value.

Here are five ways you can identify where you may be stuck, capitalize on missed opportunities, develop strategies to encourage leaders to think in innovative ways, and create buy-in when implementing new ideas.

1) Ask the paradigm question.

Encourage your people to generate ideas and empower them to think creatively by asking:

If we could do things differently to streamline a process, generate more revenue, or increase productivity, what would we do?

If your team is new to brainstorming or no one is piping up with ideas, engage in an exercise that encourages silent brainstorming. Have your team pull out pieces of paper and write down four or five things related to the question. Ask each team member to pass their paper to the right and add one or two more things to the list. Keep repeating this until the paper ends up back at the originator’s position. Take these ideas and have your team members share them on a whiteboard or flip-chart.

This exercise encourages creative thinking and empowers individuals to share freely. Before you know it, there will be a group-wide discussion with more ideas to capture.

[Related: Innovation Defined: 3 Keys to Future Proofing Your Business]

2) Narrow your field of focus.

When we ask people for ideas, it might feel like they took a crayon and colored way outside the lines. Worse, it may feel as if they missed the paper altogether. A question we often get is: “How do we encourage creativity, while at the same time keeping it focused?”

Provide clear guidelines. Critical to this are: a defined mission, vision, values, guiding principles, and specific strategic outcomes. If you don’t have a well-defined or ingrained mission statement or strategic plan in your organization, start there.

These are key to your ability to lead your people in the direction you want to go. Once you have them in-place, encourage your people to “color outside of the lines,” but keep the organization’s purposes and short-term objectives in mind.

3) Know if you are stuck in a best practices rut.

With all the creative juices flowing, your team is bound to hit a wall. To break through the wall, ask yourself the following:

  • What is working? What do we want to keep doing?
  • What is not working? What should we stop doing?
  • What are we learning? What should we consider starting?
  • What can we do differently to become more effective?

These questions will help you and your team challenge the status quo and grow to your full potential.

[Related: How to Create a Free Flow of Information Between Leaders and Employees]

4) Establish priorities.

Creative environments produce a lot of great ideas, but it's also critical to be able to make those ideas happen. Too often, great ideas die on the floor of planning or strategy sessions.

How do you prioritize strategies? When we work with clients in this situation, we use what we call a Priority Matrix. This allows you and your team to debate which strategies are more or less important than others over a specified period of time. The outcome is a clear understanding of how to create a game plan.

If you're interested, you can reach out to me and I will share a template we use in strategy sessions.

5) Nurture innovation.

Harnessed creativity takes leadership. We can get in a rut of making proclamations and telling people what to do – essentially, thinking for them. If you find yourself in this space, change your approach by asking more questions, motivating your people to think, generating ideas, and using your mission and vision to guide them in the direction you want to go.

If you are finding it difficult to create buy-in from your people or leadership, ask them to suspend disbelief. A question we often find effective is: “If it could work, what would it look like?” This approach tends to engage the creative mind and create participation, which leads to buy-in.

Buy-in is also dependent upon how safe your environment feels for people to think differently. From this perspective, always look to see if there are different ways to play with FIRE in your culture:

  • Forgiveness
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Empathy

While we may not all be as big as Amazon or Facebook, we can still learn from the start-up mentality. When fostering creativity, it might be helpful to act like a start-up company; get back to the roots of why you started and harness that energy. Company leaders and employees should reignite passion through developing goals and pursing industry and company achievements.

Leadership should stress communication and appreciation by being open and honest and answering the “why.” Why the need for innovation, why the need to change, and why now. Whether your company has a good reputation with customers, is a top performer, or receives accolades for operational achievements, challenge yourself by asking: "What more do we want to be known for?"

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Remember to throw, “Because we’ve always done it that way” out the window. Big changes are coming.

[Related: How We Make It Work: Being Purpose-Driven and Women-Led in Silicon Valley]


Adriana Puente is an associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. Adriana specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by business owners to implement succession strategies geared toward building business value.

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