04/16/2013 06:17 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2013

Where's The Innovation? 3 Tips To Inspire Your Workforce


Forget for a second the troubled economy -- it looks like America might be having an innovation crisis. Many employees are more than happy to go into work, put in their hours, complete their assigned tasks and go home. What happened to the daydreamers?

According to survey results reported in a recent Forbes article, companies might be suffering an innovation drought. The study, conducted by the Glenn Llopis Group, surveyed more than 500,000 professionals since 2009. The results showed employees are better at implementing work and completing projects than they are at growing new opportunities.

Where's the entrepreneurial spirit? Is it gone or just hiding? There's no doubt employers have a big role to play in the lack of innovators they employ. Not every employee will be full of great ideas, but the fact that so few seem to be offering up new solutions is troubling.

How can companies combat the spread of 'yes' men and women? Here are a few ways both big and small companies can go about inspiring their workers:

Give Employees Room To Innovate
In order for your employees to innovate and come up with the next big idea for your company, you need to give them a little room to breathe. At least this is what tech giant and dominant search engine provider Google discovered. Google's 20 percent rule allows employees to set aside 20 percent of their time to work on pet projects not directly linked to their job descriptions.

By allowing employees to step outside the boundaries of their institutionalized roles, Google is encouraging workers to look at the company's larger picture and offering up solutions to tough problems. In fact, a YouTube initiative to build online tools for nonprofits called YouTube for Good amassed hundreds of workers and programmers thanks to Google's 20 percent rule. The exec in charge of the program lured talented employees to donate some of their flex time and put it to good use.

Allowing employees the option to take time out of their schedule to work on new or interesting projects might just result in your next million dollar idea. At the very least, it will help employees keep their innovative skills sharpened and allow workers to take time to learn new skills.

Listen To Everyone's Ideas
Your company's next big idea might not necessarily come from your CEO or board of founders. In fact, it might come from the most unlikely source. If you empower all your employees to share their thoughts and vision about the future of your company, you'll ensure no idea falls through the cracks.

Make sure workers know about your company's open door policy when it comes to ideas, feedback, and suggestions. Make solicitation of feedback a vital part of your company culture and continually stress the importance of workers sharing their ideas -- no matter what their position in the company foodchain.

The second part of this is following up. Make sure every idea, suggestion, and piece of feedback is followed up on appropriately. This could be as simple as a note to say you received the message and will consider it. When employees feel they are being heard, they're more likely to feel engaged in the organization and tied to the success of the enterprise.

Hire For Innovation
One of the easiest ways to ensure you have the innovative workers you need is to focus on employees with big ideas straight from the hiring process. Look for candidates who are already looking to address issues in your industry and who already show they can think outside-the-box.

For instance, a candidate who sends along a video resume to show off their communication skills is someone who is not merely satisfied with the status quo of the traditional hiring process. They know in order to stand out and be memorable, they'll need to make a more personal connection with hiring managers who only spend an average of six seconds scanning over paper resumes.

Another example is the candidate who turned his qualifications into an Amazon product page. By branding himself intelligently, he stood out from the pack of other job seekers and garnered the attention of media outlets big and small.

These are both candidates who will likely take their innovative problem solving skills from the hiring process into the office. An enthusiastic and creative candidate is much more likely to make an innovative hire than someone merely content with following the pack.

Don't write the obituary for innovative employees just yet. If you want the very best, however, you'll need to hire great people and foster an environment where big ideas are nurtured and appreciated.

What do you do to keep your employees innovating? Share in the comments!

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.