If there’s one thing 2020 has made abundantly clear, it’s that prioritizing innovation when times are good puts businesses in the position to recover faster when times are bad. This strategy is referred to as serial innovation.

And it makes sense. When you’ve made a habit of thinking outside the box and pursuing new directions, you’re more prepared to do so when up against the wire.

How do you consistently put innovation at the forefront? Is it an innate quality or a skill that can be learned? In unpacking these questions, here are a handful of ways to foster innovation culture within your small business.

Be Deliberate and Thoughtful with New Hires

Whether you’re making your first hire or hundredth, be slow and deliberate. Of course, there will be times when you need help and you need it yesterday. Try to differentiate, however, between moving quickly on quality candidates and rushing the process just to check off boxes.

During interviews, you should get a feel for a potential hire’s ability to think on their feet and bring new ideas to the table. Ask questions that foster conversation and listen. You’re going to save time in the long-term by hiring the right fit for your workplace culture than you will with someone who’s there to simply take tasks off your hand.

Own Up to Mistakes

Innovation culture is learned by example. When employees see leadership embrace a constant flow of ideas and willingness to take chances, it becomes an approach they’re more likely to adopt.

Beyond that though is the reaction made to mistakes. Failure is inevitable when you’re regularly trying new things.

If you want to foster a culture of innovation, show accountability for your actions from the top down. This normalizes failure as part of the process rather than an anomaly and reason to throw in the towel.

Benchmark with Intention

For every new initiative pursued and campaign launched, there should be clear indicators of success established. Make sure you’re setting your team up for success by focusing on the right goals.

Innovative ideas aren’t always perfect right out of the gate. Set goals that leave room for iteration by focusing on benchmarks tailored around both industry and internal metrics.

Don’t base your growth strategy around simply copying competitors. Look outward for ideas but give your team enough credit to challenge the status quo and build from internal wins. It’ll prove a much more efficient and supportive way to operate than constantly pivoting around what’s trendy.

Lead in a Way That Encourages Participation

Leaders don’t dictate, they guide. And if you haven’t established trust among your team, simply asking questions of your small business employees won’t elicit answers of substance.

Management needs to eagerly listen to employees more than they talk. This is where the value of positivity comes into play. When you build a feedback loop around positive reinforcement—even in the face of mistakes—you create a space of comfort. And the more comfortable people are in relation to everyone on the team, no matter their pay grade, the more ready they’ll be to speak up and make suggestions when needed.