A culture of innovation is more than a buzzword. Many organisations struggle to first define what makes a culture innovative, let alone build an innovative culture. If these mark the beginning of the journey, how do you then take the innovative culture you’ve put so much effort into building, cultivate it for sustainability and use it to drive business transformation?
I recently sat down with our customer success team, who help our customers excel in their idea management and innovation programmes, establish and share innovation best practice and work with our customers to truly embed innovation as a core, strategic, every day capability, within their organisations. This team shared their insight, based on years of combined first-hand experience on what makes a culture innovative, how to cultivate it and use it to enable transformation.
WHAT DEFINES THE CULTURE OF AN INNOVATIVE ORGANISATION?
There are six pillars which define culture within an organisation and one of the key things to remember is that it’s everyone’s responsibility, not just the leadership team.
Taking risk and learning from failure
Innovating inherently suggests taking risks, and we know organisations can be risk-averse. So though being bold and adventurous is necessary for innovation, organisations can be more sensible and leverage collective risk-taking within a secure environment to channel their adventurous drive (Wazoku’s idea management platform can help!). When risks are taken, pivot quickly if those risks fail so everyone involved can learn from their experiences and adapt.
Day to day, failure drives innovation. Without accepting failure, you squash the generation of innovative ideas. The culture created has a large impact on innovative spirit.
Allowing time and energy for innovation
Many companies are creating, adapting or partnering with others to provide an innovative space for fostering ideas, creative thinking, exploring new technologies and prototyping. They’re often called Innovation Labs. These spaces offer employees and related connections a creative space to work, knowing that the time and energy dedicated to innovation is valued.
Companies like Lloyd’s , Oracle, Cisco, SAS, UTS and Allen & Overy all use Innovation Labs – be it to connect with smaller start-ups, test technologies, or to foster ideas and thinking. What comes out of these spaces could be a time and cost savings piece of tech or enhanced outcomes to drive continuous improvement or projects for energy conservation. The possibilities are endless – but must first be started with the right goals in mind.
Whether your organisation has a Lab or dedicates valuable time and energy to foster innovation, it must be clear to everyone that innovation is a priority and the business supports the effort.
Diversity of Opinion
In any group of people, no matter what teams, region or like-mindedness they might be – you’re going to find opinions greatly differ. What is critical for an innovative culture is that the different opinions come together to form the right output.
Bea Schofield, Customer Success Manager, Wazoku, adds, “innovation means something different to all and therefore leaders need to view it as multifaceted.”
Marianna Canino, Customer Success Manager, Wazoku, adds, “the organisation must create a comfortable space to share, where no one has a ‘stupid idea’ or else opinions will not be shared and therefore the business might never find their winning idea.”
An innovative culture means collaboration is part of the company’s DNA. Beyond sharing an idea, employees contribute to the ideas of others, building upon other suggestions to make the idea stronger or give another use case. Employees are not afraid to join the conversation.
Bea adds, “attitudes & behaviours are viewed from the top and dispersed throughout the organisation, therefore as leaders are the facilitators of ideas, they must prevent ideas being put down or let the ‘I should have thought of that myself’ approach fester. Instead, leaders must cultivate the knowledge that every idea gets a chance.”
Kristy McKenzie, Customer Success Manager, Wazoku, added, “one of the best examples I’ve seen, is an organisation that made sure everyone was heard and everyone championed each other. The real spirit of collaboration was filtered through the organisation – including leadership knowing everyone’s name and lower level employees feeling empowered to lead initiatives, as leadership recognised everyone no matter their station can add value. Collaboration wasn’t just forced, it was part of the spirit within the company walls, across all meetings and in written communications of the organisation. Everyone felt it.”
“A reward and recognition programme, done the right way, can help you cultivate collaboration,” adds Marianna. Some companies use gamification to show most engaged users, ideas with the most comments or most active conversation. It’s a great way to start a healthy competition. Other companies give financial rewards based on the cost-savings a given idea saved the business. “Where a reward programme can go wrong is if it is finance incentivised for the wrong reasons, fostering the mindset such as, ‘how much do I get versus them,’ for collaborating on an idea already given,” she added.
Philosophy of Trust
Trust goes beyond a firm belief in reliability. Employees need to trust that when an idea is suggested, there is follow-through, and something will be done to evaluate and potentially implement their idea. The last thing an employee wants is a team that’s all talk and no action.
Does your organisation have a short, medium and long-term vision? Does the entire organisation know it? Marianna Canino advises strategy must be translated into action. “Make sure your company has SMART actions in place to achieve the vision, including task owners and programme sponsors.”
Formal Innovation Training
There are loads of options for innovation training. This could be the innovation leader launching the programme into the business, by getting everyone aligned on what innovation means to each person or team versus what it means for the company as a whole. It could also be a third-party software or consultant running a workshop on design thinking, culture, digital transformation, or more.
Where innovation training helps build an innovative culture is getting everyone aligned as to what the programme is, what the goals are, who is owning what part of the initiative and how success will be measured. We know that innovation isn’t just done by a few people behind closed doors somewhere – it’s the entire organisation that should have a voice and role in the innovation process.
Make sure employees know they’re not just being asked for ideas, but that they’ll get support, time and expertise on best practice from idea generation, evaluation to implementation. Wazoku customers go through an initial on-boarding process to review and prepare the business for an integrated idea management programme on strategy, leadership, management, culture and process.
WHAT ELEMENTS OF CULTURE ENABLE TRANSFORMATION?
“To truly transform, it’s more than a PR exercise, it’s embedded within the organisation,” says Bea. “The leadership team needs to enable change & drive the initiative as people are the priority.”
The business must create and share forward-thinking objectives. Marianna continues her earlier philosophy of trust point, “one of the best ways I’ve seen culture enable transformation is when it’s instilled from the very start of an employee’s career – the innovation programme and organisation culture is shared as part of the employee welcome and their company onboarding. Even before that – add it to job descriptions as you expand the team.”
The right business goals and innovation strategy are absolutely critical – not just that the business has them – but that they are shared frequently, measured appropriately and aligned throughout the organisation’s teams and individuals. Kristy notes, “management needs to have budget, time, and power to make things happen. Goals and strategy mean nothing if there is no accountability or resource to achieve them. When tools and processes are aligned, and communication is a consistent feedback loop, across all areas of the business, business transformation can thrive”.
Remember the importance of celebrating success when your organisation achieves their goals, which continues to cultivate an innovative culture.
HOW TO ENSURE YOUR INNOVATIVE CULTURE IS SUSTAINABLE
Changing business culture won’t happen overnight but continuously sharing the clear vision for what you desire your organisation to look like, will focus efforts to retain and foster the culture you’ve built. Remember three points towards creating a culture that is sustainable: set a clear purpose, encourage creativity and embrace employee autonomy. How should you deliver these steps? See what our Chief Strategy and Product Officer, Rosemarie Diegnan recommends.
“One great way to make your innovative culture sustainable is to include it in annual or quarterly employee reviews. When staff know they’ll be measured by the question, what have you done to contribute to innovation during X timeframe, it’ll be priority in their daily working life,” said Bea. “Also ensure that you have a measurement of change established. What factors are you using to measure how innovative your culture is and how are you tracking progress overtime? This is absolutely critical, so you’ll be able to celebrate success or pivot quickly should the direction not improve,” she added.
“We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – innovation doesn’t just sit in one team, the entire organisation shares the effort – therefore it’s everyone’s responsibility to cultivate the culture they’ve worked so hard to build and sustain,” said Marianna.
Kristy added, “innovation isn’t just a big untouchable thing – the culture an organisation has built should be nurtured and improved, which includes consistent encouragement for all to get involved.”
By building and sustaining a culture that gives your employees the freedom to shape the forward direction your company moves, you are driving business transformation by building their motivation to deliver a greater level of service for your customers, whilst growing in their commitment to their work.
To become an innovation-led organisation and foster a truly innovative culture, it’s crucial to understand where you are today and to be able to track your progress as you develop your organisation’s innovation capability.
Our simple tool, the Innovation Pulse Maturity Assessment, allows you to assess your current innovation maturity and helps you understand where to focus your efforts in order to become an Everyday innovator.