As a leader, one of the most difficult and rewarding things you can do is to cultivate innovation within your team. In this tough economy, standing out is more important than ever; in a good way, of course! But where do these great ideas come from? Yes, your loyal employees. Follow these three steps to help members of your team shine as innovators:

Encourage Innovation
Sometimes we all need proper encouragement, even when we’re thinking creatively. Develop programs and policies to encourage your employees to be more innovative. Sometimes a little push can get the creative juices really flowing! For example, if your company frequently holds brainstorms, require your employees to bring a minimum of three thought-out ideas to the table, and reward the person who came up with the winning idea with a small gift card or something similar.

Keep it Simple
If your company has a lengthy proposal procedure, eliminate it! Foster informal communication so your employees feel more comfortable sharing with you. Not only will you get more ideas in general, you will likely get more ideas from the shy and reserved team member who does not want to jump through hoops to speak.

Let ‘em Down Nicely
Learn how to reject a proposal nicely. If your employees are afraid you’ll rudely turn down their idea and laugh at them, they’ll avoid bringing ideas to you all together. Not every proposal is perfect, so if you can say no with a kind smile, your employees will keep sharing and you’re more likely to find that diamond in the rough.

Innovators come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important not to rule anyone out. Your employees have unique perspectives and the proper nurturing can turn those views into successful ideas for your organization.

(Source: Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness by P. G. Clampitt)