The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization? is written by Neil Capel, founder and chairman of Sailthru.
Creativity at Sailthru is most often inspired by our customers. Connecting with our customer base, listening to their challenges and getting outside of our own daily tasks and deliverables, has allowed creativity to flow in awesome and unexpected ways. But making your customers the heart of your creative process takes time and effort. First, we had to enact customer feedback studies, which regularly gave us insight into how we were doing, what our customers wanted, and whether or not we were meeting their expectations. We also began inviting customers in on a monthly basis to present at our New York City headquarters so that we all (other offices watch via video) can hear directly from the source on goals, KPIs, and challenges in a rapidly evolving landscape of channels and customer demands. This is a role-agnostic experience as customer-centricity is only as good as your most siloed or self-aggrandizing link.
Through this approach, I’ve discovered that by giving employees the opportunity to truly listen to customers — without feeling forced to do so — they’re experiencing personal and professional growth. The “bigger picture” is being seen as the impact of each of their actions, which is visible on the faces of the marketer successfully scaling and retaining their own customer base with our software. The curiosity I’ve seen and breadth of employee pursuits has evolved dramatically since we committed to customer-centricity. As employees consider the customer perspective, new thinking emerges.
Sometimes, taking a step back is the best way to allow creative thinking to take center stage. Give individuals the freedom to approach any given situation in their own unique way. We’ve tapped into this with a coffee roulette program which pairs employees at random for coffee dates, paid for by the company. This increased connectivity among customer facing teams and our engineering team has been crucial in increased creativity across the company. Without the knowledge of customer input into development, every business runs the risk of needlessly bringing irrelevant products to market and overlooking a simple feature or improvement. Our goal is to make it easier for marketers to retain customers, so their pain points and opportunities must be understood across all departments.
Another way we encourage creativity at Sailthru is through our Talent Development Stipend, which provides every employee with up to $1,500 each year to learn and challenge themselves outside of the office — whether that be taking a coding class or cooking class. This personal development carries over into professional development as new skills enable new perspectives. By ensuring that our employees have what they need to think about customers; think about other employees who aren’t sitting directly to the right or left; and think about their own life experience through a new lens we create the foundation for every individual to identify new opportunities, solve challenges, and impact our company.