In last week’s post, I wrote about how a flexible mindset can enhance business success. This week, it’s all about how to create and nurture an innovative, flexible-thinking company culture.

Organizationally speaking, flexible thinking enhances business success by soliciting and valuing input from everyone. It requires big picture thinking that continually challenges the status quo. With flexible thinking, the workplace culture becomes more agile and innovative.

Like all business priorities, creating a workplace culture that embraces and practices flexible thinking requires a strategy. Which begs the question, where does one start?

Five Steps to Creating a Flexible Workplace Culture

1) Measure the Climate

The first step to creating a flexible thinking culture is to measure employees’ attitudes. How safe do employees feel contributing unsolicited ideas? How accepting is management of daring concepts? In what ways does the company acknowledge, support, reward, and promote flexible thinking? Unless employees feel safe sharing a bold new idea, you can forget-about-it! Include questions like this in your annual employee survey and modify your strategy based on results.

2) Lead by Example

Creating a culture that willingly views situations in extraordinary ways requires leaders who model the behavior they want to see company-wide. Employees emulate the ways of working they observe when looking up. Do you want employees to engage in a problem-solution scenario in record-breaking time? Show them how it was successfully done at the executive level and explain the multiple facets of value-add in ways they will understand and appreciate.

3) Create a Business Challenge Open to All

Who says that subject matter experts always have the right solution? The fact is that many times the best answers to tough problems can be solved by someone who doesn’t even work in the field where the problem originated. Those people truly bring an “outside” perspective and a fresh lens to the situation. (To hear specific examples of how this has played out in the real world, listen to this 50-minute presentation.) Consider sharing tough business challenges company-wide and encouraging input from all. In doing so, you not only receive increased input, but you may also get the business solution that will transform your business.

4) Recognize and Reward

Establish an ongoing system to collect, nurture, and harvest how flexible thinking is already making a difference and let that become an example for others to follow. That means recognizing the effort employees make to provide input; it means “telling the story” about the best ideas and how they came to be. It also means admitting the potential risks and providing incentives to management willing to tolerate increased ambiguity and uncertainty.

5) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Business strategies require communication strategies. Some tactical elements of that plan might include: 

    • ongoing training on how to comfortably engage in unfiltered brainstorming sessions
    • cross-functional teams facilitated by innovation experts skilled at managing dialogue from divergent perspectives to produce cohesive recommendations
    • employee-led solution think tanks where the senior representative acts as a sponsor instead of a leader. In teams where hierarchy is invisible, members are more willing to be themselves and share more freely
    • share success stories internally and externally without sugar-coating them. Success may start out very messy before it begins to flow in a controlled manner. Flexible thinking, by default, may create a more complex environment. In an atmosphere of trust and respect, the complexities remain, but the focus is on ideation

Prepare to Be Totally Rad

Companies need employees who are able and willing to turn on a dime to meet business challenges and customer needs. Sometimes the standard protocol works just fine. Other times, employees need to come up with something totally rad.

Can your company do it?

Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.

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