How Does a Leader Encourage Creative Thinking Within an Organization?

Standout leaders execute on tactics not the aspiration.

It starts with values.

It ends with culture.

The values of the organization promulgated by the leader must specifically include the desire to encourage innovative behaviour in all employees.

And creative behaviour nurtured and instilled in every employee produces a culture that is expressive of the objective to step out and create new opportunities for the organization.

The leader's active participation in establishing and communicating the innovation value is critical because the behavioural momentum instilled in most people is at odds with encouraging "disruptive" behaviour.

We leave school imprinted to believe that following the rules and complying with "learned thought" is the right thing to do because we are rewarded for doing so. "A's" are earned by conformance with pedagogy; "F's" punish those who deviate.

Leaders are therefore faced with the momentous challenge of changing a basic behaviour pattern in people which they have exhibited for most likely their entire lives and personally benefited from.

Leaders must intervene with these actions to morph an organization from a compliance mode to a creative one.

  1. Develop a statement of values for the organization that specifically includes Innovation and creativity - "We have the courage to innovate." 

  2. Define "ok" and "not ok" behaviours. It's one thing to aspire to be creative, but more granular detail must be provided for employees to understand "what it looks like" in the workplace.

    Don't leave it up to the individual to invent their own view of what creative behaviour is; the leader must paint a very specific picture of what is in bounds and what is out of bounds.

  3. Purge rules and policies that work against innovation and creativity. Bureaucracy that puts a straight jacket around "ok" behaviour must be eliminated or at least modified to provide the freedom for employees to be creative. 

    A balance is required to both responsibility manage risk and "let go" and allow people to express their new ideas.

  4. Celebrate and reward failures - go hard on this one. Make it VERY obvious that failing is "ok." Honour those that fail regularly. Build failing into every employee's performance plan.

    If a leader can't bring themselves to say "It's ok to fail" in front of employees, walk away from the innovation value because you don't mean it.

  5. Establish "creativity performance committees" in each function in the organization to monitor employee performance reviews and ensure that employees are judged on their creativity efforts.

    Recognize those managers who go the extra mile and build their team members' capability to "act out of the box."

  6. Establish a "tries budget" - an expense bucket designed to fund specific projects or programs with significant disruptive potential.

    This is a great way to drive home the point that tries are an essential part of the culture. Increase the budget every year to signal that more innovative activity is expected.

  7. Enhance the traditional audit "control" function in the organization to formally include determining whether or not processes are in place and working to develop the disruptive competency.

    Schedule regular "disruption audits"; publish the results throughout the organization.

Creativity in an organization doesn't happen by aspirational intent or by serendipity.

It becomes a component of culture by implementing specific tactics which produce the behaviour and results aligned with the goal.

Standout leaders execute on the tactics not the aspiration.

Roy Osing
Roy Osing

Roy Osing (@royosing) is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of executive leadership experience. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.

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How Does a Leader Encourage Creative Thinking Within an Organization?