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Guide HR: Nine tips for innovation

Innovation can be successfully harnessed on today’s farms. Here’s how

Some farmers seem to have a talent for developing new markets, new products, or new and better ways of getting things done. They innovate.

Is that talent something they were born with? More to the point, can your enterprise promote innovation and creativity? Does environment contribute to innovation, and can you, as a leader, support the creativity of the members of your farm team?

The research is very encouraging.

“I am not a creative person,” one farmer told me. Many people think the ability to innovate is something they were either born with or without. However, we now know that this is untrue.

Experts agree that certain conditions can increase the likelihood of innovation. As a leader, you can create these conditions by the way you challenge your team. Or you can do the opposite, creating an environment where your team will underperform for innovation.

Are you setting an example of emotional involvement and commitment to innovation?

Goran Ekvall, emeritus professor of organizational psychology at the University of Lund, has identified the key climatic factors that influence organizational creativity:

  1. Challenge: Are employees challenged, emotionally involved, and committed to work? Do they love their jobs and have realistic goals according to their abilities and knowledge? Tip: Ask them how they feel about their tasks. On a scale of 1-10, have them rate how interested they are in the work they do, and how capable they feel of doing those jobs.
  2. Freedom: Do you allow them flexibility, or do they have strict guidelines and roles, with no room to redefine their tasks? Tip: Be sure to adjust your supervision to their maturity and competence as workers. Be sure to give them some choice in their work, for example, in deciding when or how to do a task.
  3. Ideas and time: Do employees have time to think through new ideas? Do you allow time for innovation? Are there resources to try new ideas? Tip: Allocate time, money and equipment to support creative ideas. Ask what they need, and negotiate.
  4. Dynamism, or the eventfulness of life in the organization: Do you celebrate together? Tip: Find occasions to celebrate. Ask your employees what events they would like to celebrate. Ask them to organize those events.
  5. Trust and openness: Do people feel safe speaking their minds and offering different points of view? As a leader, do you react with openness and interest? Tip: You don’t have to accept every idea, but be sure to listen with openness and encourage people to suggest new perspectives.
  6. Playfulness and humour: Is the environment relaxed? Does your team have fun and make jokes sometimes? Do you laugh as a group, or does it always have to be serious? Tip: Promote a little bit of fun. It will stimulate a more creative atmosphere.
  7. Conflicts: Do you have a way to solve conflicts as they arise? Are plots, traps, power struggles, slander, or gossip common? Or are relationships more mature, able to deal effectively with diversity? Tip: As a leader, be sure to manage conflict properly, in a constructive way. Develop a win-win culture. Don’t let conflict remain unresolved.
  8. Debate: Is it all right to express disagreement and to have lively debates about issues, or do we always have to think the same way? Tip: Promote a culture of, “let’s talk about it” and, “tell me what you think.” Be sure to encourage employees to play the devil’s advocate.
  9. Risk-taking: Is it okay to fail? What happens if new ideas don’t work? Are the employees blamed? Are you able to take a calculated risk? Tip: Don’t penalize failed ideas. Instead, use them as jumping-off points for the next innovation.

Innovation-friendly climates are not accidental. Creativity cannot emerge without time or resources. Nor can it emerge when a person is too stressed or afraid of the consequences.

What about incentives, like monetary rewards for new ideas? Such approaches are risky and difficult to evaluate. Moreover, creativity does not appear on command at the promise of money. However, a leader can provide the right conditions for innovation.

So, if you want your team to generate unique ideas, first you must establish the right conditions. It is like preparation for reaping a bountiful harvest; you must “sow the right seeds in a rich soil and fertilize well.”

About the author

Columnist

Pierrette Desrosiers, MPS, CRHA is a work psychologist, professional speaker, coach and author who specializes in the agricultural industry. She comes from a family of farmers and she and her husband have farmed for more than 25 years (www.pierrettedesrosiers.com).

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