It seems as though every organisation wants to be more innovative. We all want to encourage people to contribute ideas about how to make things work better. But how comfortable are we really when the status quo is challenged? Because innovation is all about questioning the way we do things.

Make it how you do business

For organisations to be more innovative, and to be able to innovate quickly and easily, the aim has to be to make innovation a systemic part of the way we do business. No suggestion schemes, no clever software, no high-profile launches, no Innovation Department, just the way we do things throughout the business. There’s a real driver of change in this area that is often overlooked: new hires.

The opportunities new hires bring

When new employees first join an organisation there’s a window of opportunity. New hires often have a very different perspective to their colleagues, ideas about good practice that they’ve brought with them from their experiences elsewhere, great ideas that they haven’t had chance to put into practice, ‘naive’ questions that lead others to think quite differently.

Previous experience is usually the main thing hiring managers look at when they’re selecting the best candidate for a role, but it’s often an advantage that’s overlooked once someone’s in place.

With their different perspective, one of the most common questions that arises in the minds of people when they join a new business and are figuring out how things are done is ‘Why on earth do you do it like that?’. But that question often doesn’t get asked, because it can be a real challenge both to ask it and to be asked.

Why new recruits don’t always ask the right questions

Often new employees don’t want to cause a fuss. They don’t want to upset the status quo. They just want fit in, make friends and survive their probation period. So what usually happens is that they keep their head down and their mouth shut and get on with doing things the way they’ve always been done. By the time they feel secure enough to ask potentially challenging questions, their different perspective has often faded and they’ve accepted things as they are.

Encouraging people to challenge from day one can mean that not only are they potentially able to add huge value, but they will also more quickly develop a deep understanding of the way you do business and be able to really contribute to the outcomes.

Picking the right people

Actively selecting new employees who will challenge the way you do things and then encouraging and supporting them to do just that in the first few months of their employment will boost the levels of creativity and innovation within your organisation. There are people out there that more naturally question the way things are done. At interview they’ll tick all the boxes you need them to in terms of the role, e.g. skills and experience. Then when encouraged to do so they’ll be able to tell you about ideas they’ve introduced or challenges they’ve made in previous roles. They’ll probably also express their disappointment that their ideas and their willingness to challenge how things are done haven’t been welcomed by other employers. Hire them!

They’ll need your active and public support to challenge the way you do things. This in turn will encourage others to start to look at how and why they do what they do, and to speak up more confidently about the ideas they have for changing things. Because you can bet they all have loads of ideas. It will accelerate the change you’re looking to see.

It won’t always be comfortable. Being challenged (especially when you’re the boss) can be really difficult and I’m not sure you ever get totally comfortable with it. But take the lead and think about why you do what you do, then explain it or change it. And by doing so you’ll create an environment in which challenging the way things are done is just ‘the way things are done around here’.