Building An Open Culture Which Nurtures Employee Innovation

Building an Open Culture which Nurtures Employee Innovation

David Bakker | September 22, 2014

Innovation has always been a part of Arraya Solutions, and not just some immeasurable, abstract goal. It’s a natural byproduct of the open and accepting culture we foster here.

We never want employees to feel like they have to keep quiet or deny their creativity. It’s critical they know their ideas and insights are valued parts of how we do business. If employees don’t feel that way and they sit on potentially game-changing ideas, it only hurts our company.

It’s not enough to talk about having an open culture. It’s something that needs to be incorporated into and demonstrated by a company’s day-to-day operations. Here’s a look at just some of the ways we do that here:

Give them a platform

To find an example of Arraya’s open culture in action, just walk into a typical Arraya meeting. In these meetings, there are folks from different departments and all levels contributing to the conversation.

This openness comes as a result of everyone knowing the goals of the meeting. Those goals are clearly defined at the start, which provide parameters, so while outside the box thinking is encouraged, no one gets too far off course. These goals should lead to an expected outcome but should never force people into one line of thinking.

The responsibility to keep attendees engaged falls on the meeting’s host. This can be done by asking questions and especially by giving all opinions and suggestions fair consideration. That element of leadership responsiveness is the cornerstone of an open culture. 

Have a conversation

A simple way for managers and supervisors to nurture that open culture with employees? Talk to them.

This could be something as easy as saying “Good morning” to someone in the halls. A friendly greeting or a smile can be enough to get employees to stop thinking of a leader as “The Boss” and more like someone they can come to with ideas or suggestions.

As companies grow, and this is something we’ve noticed here, new folks aren’t always comfortable popping into leaders’ offices or having a chat with them by the water cooler. But if leaders make it a point to engage staffers and ask their opinion on a subject, then that comfort level increases.

It doesn’t stop with face-to-face interactions. Our leadership team also contributes on discussion boards, facilitates conversations through social media, and holds weekly cadence calls to bounce around new ideas. All of that helps drive engagement.

Avoid saying ‘No’

Another big part of our open culture is making sure leaders try to never say “no.” We take people’s thoughts into consideration and try to use whatever we can. Even if it’s just a small piece – it’s helpful. And we let our employees know that.

Of course, not every idea is going to be a winner.

If resources are the issue, it’s better to say “I really like the idea, but we’re going to need more resources. Do you think you could get your team involved or look into outsourcing this?” than it is to say “We can’t do that” or “We don’t have the resources.”

And if an idea just flat-out won’t work, we try to redirect the person’s focus by suggesting an alternative that could potentially accomplish the same goal. For example: “I understand where you’re coming from, but what do you think about trying this instead?” This way a leader is still engaging the person in a dialog and getting his or her input, but he or she can transition the employee’s creative energy into a more doable solution.

Sometimes just explaining why an idea won’t work is the best approach. If a technician has an idea that won’t fit a financial or business model, then explaining this in some detail will let him or her learn about other aspects of the company and also provide some mentorship along the way.

Employees shouldn’t ever feel foolish for coming to a leader with an improvement idea. If a boss just flat out says “no,” it can make a huge impact on that employee’s enthusiasm for chipping in again.