The thirst for innovation is fueled by a modern market of shiny new startups, disruptive technologies, and a shift in power to the consumer. Innovative companies achieve sustainable growth, renewed competitive advantages and ongoing customer relevance.
However, it’s the ability to innovate that remains a constant challenge for brands. Research shows promoting an innovative idea is one of the least simple tasks, only surpassed by asking for a raise. While it’s widely known that innovative companies are more creative, collaborative and productive, the difficulty lies in unlocking these traits. What’s more, these behaviors rely heavily on an engaged workforce who drive the business forward. And if there’s another corporate term that’s become equally as important yet elusive as innovation, it’s employee engagement.

The secret, it seems, is in simplifying your company. New research from Siegel+Gale shows that simpler companies have both higher rates of innovation and engaged employees. This is largely because the more engaged your employees are, the more they will inherently deliver their best and naturally seek to improve the environment around them. This positive mindset and proactive behavior leads to organic, continuous improvement across your entire company, naturally infusing innovation into your culture.

The study shows that at companies perceived as being simple, 87 percent of employees bring new ideas to the table. They are also more productive on a typical work day, have higher levels of trust in leadership, and are more resilient. Simpler organizations create environments where employees are empowered to focus on the things that will make a difference. They can think more clearly, act more freely, and make progress more consistently.

Conversely, in complex organizations, there is confusion around priorities, bottlenecks in decision making, and counter-productive processes. When these combine, employees’ resources – time, will and budget to name a few – are spent on what’s always done, instead of what could be done better.

Here are three steps to help leaders unlock the potential of their people and improve their collective ability to innovate:

Clarify the cause – clearly communicate how every employee has an impact on the company’s mission.  Our research found 96 percent of employees at simple companies receive clear communication from leadership. Bring together leaders, communicators and high-performers to translate your “why” into the “how” for each part of the business – the “what” that drives value will follow. The extra effort to take this step will pay off when you consider that 90 percent of employees in simple companies understand how their role impacts customers, according to our study. Brands that communicate their purpose with clarity and simplicity will see their message translated through the personal behaviors of their employees.
Build a community – foster an environment where employees feel comfortable raising new ideas, collaborating with others, and using feedback effectively. These are key ingredients to achieving engagement and driving innovation. Think of your company as a community where members share common interests. Each plays a unique role to keep the community – and each other – thriving. Every role is valued as a contributor to the overall social system. When organizations operate in this way, no one person or department is more important than another – they are equally important. This reduces the burden of unnecessary management systems and dilutes the power of competing agendas, because being accountable to your peers is an extremely powerful motivator. In fact, a study by Google cited this psychological safety as a critical success factor for high-performing teams. You can help foster this sense of community through peer-to-peer recognition, internal knowledge- and skill-sharing programs, and by leveraging socially driven networking platforms to spark new connections.

Treat employees like consumers – the growing emphasis on developing better “user experience” for customers begins with your employees. Your employees have high expectations for their workplace experience—from the culture of the office to the technology they use. Creating an experience that’s right for your workplace depends upon a clear understanding of the type of talent you need to attract and retain, along with their wants and needs. Once you’ve established this you need to transfer those brand insights into a clear, simple and compelling Employee Value Proposition (EVP) – or “people promise”. The EVP then becomes a decision-making filter to guide leaders, HR practitioners and communicators in developing the culture and environment that drives your employee experience. The outcome should be a natural extension of your corporate brand. It is the employee-facing interpretation of your brand experience. This ensures clarity and simplicity, reinforcing the “why” for employees and building a consistent experience across the organization, from employees through to customers.

Incorporate these three actions into your organization and you’ll start to see the effects of a simpler, more engaged workforce where innovation occurs naturally but consciously. And your customers will notice the effects too.