Natasha Ashton - Helpful tips to help drive creativity and find the next big thing Featured

6:21pm EDT October 29, 2013
Natasha Ashton, Petplan Natasha Ashton, Petplan

Inspiration and innovation are traits that no successful business can do without. The ability to rise above the daily grind and see the big picture is the mark of a true leader. But no company can coast on the dreams of one or two individuals alone.

Cultivating a corporate environment where inspiration and innovation abound takes planning, communication and, yes, a willingness to fail every once in a while.

One of the key foundations for innovation is your company’s culture. Your brand is one of your most important assets in the marketplace, but it is also the driving force behind your employees’ sense of purpose; without a clear mission, and a work environment that reinforces your core values, it is easy for workers to become disengaged at best, disaffected at worst.

At Petplan, our team has taken great pains to make our brand experience inclusive of our employees. We pride ourselves on having the best-rated customer service in the industry, and so we also take care to make sure our employees feel heard and appreciated when they have concerns.

Immersing your workers in your brand experience makes them feel like a real part of the business, and when they’re invested as stakeholders, creativity, problem-solving and innovation happen naturally.

Keep the lines open

As challenging as busy schedules and competing priorities can be, it is absolutely essential to remain accessible to employees. The next big idea could come from anyone, but if you’re not around to hear it — or worse, if your team doesn’t feel they can come to you to share it — you are missing out. Encourage your workforce to ask questions and share ideas, and keep an open door to upper management. Listen, try new things and reward those who put themselves out there to make suggestions.

This is where it gets tricky, because letting people innovate means letting go; you have to be willing to risk failure (and avoid pointing fingers!).

In the early days of Petplan, we had an employee make a $14,000 blunder while trying something new. At the time, that sum nearly gave me a heart attack. But in the end, the direction we went was the right one — and had we not taken that risk we wouldn’t be where we are today.  Learning from failure and course correcting as you go will help balance risk and reward as you innovate.

Finally, you have to continue to inspire your employees if you expect them to innovate. Teach them, train them, foster networking, give them opportunities to pursue continuing education, offer them the chance to do something outside of their typical job responsibilities, and sometimes, simply let them play.

The best businesses are built not just by the people who lead them, but by the individuals who clock in every day and give it their all. Create space for your employees to share their ideas and the next industry-changing innovation could be right around the corner!

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, fetch! — both headquartered in Newtown Square, Pa. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com. To learn more about Petplan, please visit www.gopetplan.com/about-us