The workplace is a complicated environment with many diverse personalities, agendas, and systems set-up to accomplish company goals. Organization leadership need to ensure everyone is on a consistent pathway toward advancement so that the business stays ahead of competition.

Continuous improvement requires a proactive work culture that creatively solves problems, innovates efficiency, reduces costs, and maintains happy employees. There are several key principals to implement and safeguard consistent progress.

Employees Must Feel Safe

The #metoo movement has brought to our attention the outlandish sexual harassment that is apparent across all industries. Women and men felt unsafe to bring up horrible abuse that was part of the norm for so many years. It has finally come to a halt with the astonishing number of brave women and men who took the risk to have uncomfortable conversations.

It is imperative for leadership to put into place a transparent communication system so that all voices are heard. Everyone matters in the workforce and it is up to management to reach out to those that are quiet and soft spoken.

Find a format such as group gatherings, town hall meetings, informal talks, or neutral systems that builds a trusted environment and everyone feels comfortable to have an ongoing dialogue. Create a culture where vulnerability is cherished, difficult discussions are not feared, and conflict is resolved amicably. According to research, face-to-face connections increase employee morale the most.

Listening Is Not Silence

Listening is active. Many people think it is a passive activity and that if you are silent then you are listening. That is so far from the truth.

Listening involves dropping your agenda and attuning to the talkers needs. Get curious, ask questions, dig deeper and repeat until the speaker knows for sure you understand their perspective. To empathize, you must first understand the others’ point of view and the only way to understand is to inquire.

Listening is a skill. It can be taught, practiced, and perfected. It is up to management to ensure they are proficient listeners.

Empower Employees With a Sense of Ownership

As previously mentioned, everyone matters. From the person who cleans the toilets to the CEO, and all in between, every single person makes a difference. Great leaders and teams validate independent thinkers who define problems and solutions at work and encourage a sense of ownership.

Google 20 is a prime example of a system set-up to promote independent thought. Google allotted employees twenty percent of their time for brainstorming creative solutions. Gmail, AdSense, and Google Talk were generated from the one day given to creativity and imagination.

Reward those who seek answers with recognition in the monthly newsletter, lunch on the boss, or an afternoon off.

The program isn’t diminished but employee workload is too high to allow for a day of creative problem solving.

The truth is the greatest ideas come at unexpected times. Innovative ideas arise from busy people who are allowed to try new things without permission. They are allowed to fail without consequences because through failure we learn the most. And those that never try will never succeed.

Six Steps to Innovative Ideas

1. Collect data
We are constantly gathering information as we work, read, and take classes. The brain is absorbing knowledge all the time.

2. Incubation period
Allow your mind to absorb and process the new information. The brain is constantly working even in your sleep. Let the chunks of info gestate.

3. Let it be
It is impossible to force an idea. The more you persist, the more it resists. Let the bits and pieces to form naturally.

4. Spontaneity

The idea will come when you least expect it. The a-ha moment happens when you are half awake in the morning or even wake you up in the middle of the night. It could pop-up while bathing, listening to music, or when you are playing and having fun.

5. Intensity
An intense experience is the key to combining all the components and becoming something great. Whatever that activity may be, make sure your mind is fully involved and focused. For me, it’s painting, drawing, just after intense exercise, or driving fast. It’s during intense times, when endorphins begin to fill the mind and body, generating a natural high and sense of pleasure. So find your intense indulgence and you can intentionally generate innovative ideas.

6. Business plan

Write down your idea and turn it into reality. Share it, do the market research, and fine-tune the details.

Employees must feel safe, listened to and understood, and allowed to fail to continuously improve the workflow and stay ahead of the competition. Encourage innovation, give a sense of ownership and empower employees to be their unique self. Everyone will reap the benefits.