Workspaces look different now than they did a few years ago. Perhaps your company has adopted a hybrid work model, or you’ve finally perfected that home office.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the need for workplace innovation. Doing the same thing day in and day out is a recipe for both lackluster performance and employee burnout. Organizations must constantly adapt and foster environments that invite innovative, critical thinking.
That’s often easier said than done, and sometimes a little nudge is necessary. To encourage workplace innovation, ask your employees these four questions.
Are you using your top strength daily in your role?
This question serves a dual purpose. It helps you better understand the strengths of your employees—their answers may very well surprise you. People often take on certain focus areas within their role, and it’s not always what they’re most passionate about. In some cases, learning this information can lead to a shift in concentration, creating more innovative, engaged employees eager to share new ideas.
The question also encourages employees to think about how they can apply their strengths within the organization. Perhaps communication is a top strength, but they’re spending more time in a data analytics role. A complete role change might not be possible right now, but they can use what they discover through data to develop a thorough plan with actionable next steps. By communicating the value of what they discovered to clients and colleagues, they’re still getting to use their greatest strength.
What can we change?
This is an especially good question for a manager to ask a direct report. It shows you care about your employees’ well-being and are also open to new solutions. Everyone has parts of their job they’d like to change, and sometimes it’s as simple as laying them out and asking if they can be fixed.
You can also pair this question by asking what an employee needs from you, how they prefer to be recognized for major accomplishments, and if there’s anything that’s frustrating them. There may not be immediate answers for everything, but by addressing these potential challenges early, you’re creating an environment that welcomes collaboration, development, and outside-the-box ideas—all keys to workplace innovation.
Why are we doing this?
Particularly with lower-level employees, it’s easy to get caught up in going along with your daily tasks. But sometimes, stopping to think about the “why” behind what you’re doing can lead to innovative change.
At some point in your career, you’ve likely had someone tell you “oh, that’s just how it’s always been done.” Usually, there’s a better way—and asking “why?” can set you off down that path.
Remember, this question isn’t meant to be combative. Even if there’s a reasonable answer, it’s helping align everyone on the same page. No one has the exact same knowledge and experience, so joining together behind a common goal helps keep the team on track.
How can we kill the company?
This violent-sounding question actually serves as the foundation for a great critical thinking exercise. Author Lisa Bodell explains “Kill Your Company” as an annual exercise every company should partake in—stepping into the shoes of its top competitor.
On sticky notes, everyone writes down what would “kill” the company, and then employees group the sticky notes by most to least major outcomes, or the easiest to hardest to address. Even if everyone is working remotely, you can use a tool like Jamboard to create virtual sticky notes.
Seeing challenges laid out like that encourages people to work together to come up with creative solutions. Who knows? You may even find a way to turn the tide and create a strategy that fights back against your greatest competitor.