1. Hire right. When Jerry Sokol took over as CEO of Vertis Communications in early 2011, he spent a lot of time making sure new management hires were a right fit for the culture: aggressive, forward-thinking and not afraid to debate the boss. “Safe individuals don’t work well with me.”
2. Set the tone. “Every single person inside Apple is accountable for what they’re supposed to do and the company’s goals are very clearly defined,” says Nikos Acuna, author of the forthcoming book, Mindshare: The Art of Design Thinking and Creative Innovation. Once employees understand the mission, they can innovate in the context of those goals. Encourage risktaking and let them know it’s okay to fail.
3. Foster trust. The CEO can do this by opening up. Tell your group about an idea you had that didn’t pan out. “That makes you vulnerable to criticism, but it turns out that when you do that, it creates what others have called vulnerability-based trust, which is far more valuable than the usual definition of trust,” says innovation consultant Charlie Prather.
4. Carve out idea time. Make sure employees are not so buried in the daily grind that they have no time to ideate. Whether it’s an offsite meeting or a brown-bag lunch, get direct reports together to free associate solutions to a customer problem. And make sure ideas are not criticized out of the gate. “That quickly shuts down the flow of ideas,” notes Prather.
5. Appoint an innovation chief. If you have ideas filtering in from around the globe, it helps to have someone who excels at project management and communication to weave them together, says Dan Hendrix, CEO of Interface, whose chief innovations officer, John Bradford, coordinates that effort. “That person connects teams together through good communication so they can collaborate. You get a lot more efficiency that way.”