Agile organisation, Culture & Leadership for Innovation

By Wazoku

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At this year’s Innovation Roundtable Summit in Copenhagen, I moderated a roundtable discussion on some of the challenges businesses face when trying to build a more agile organisation, grow a culture of innovation and navigate leadership and mindset.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the Q&A – all answers are anonymised and summarised.


What have you found most interesting from your time at the conference so far?

  • There was a presentation earlier which explored the topic and importance of trust. I think that trust underpins a lot of the challenges we face as businesses when it comes to innovation.
  • I would also say that a lot of what I have heard has been a great barometer for where we are, a validation that we are doing a lot of the right things, but, also that we are only just getting started and have a long way to go in terms of embedding innovation in our organisation.
  • There was a topic around ‘how to embrace learning and iterate’, and for me that is an emerging and developing thought. We do it okay at our firm, but there is so much we could improve.

What does innovation mean to you or your organisation?

  • We think about innovation in 3 horizons: 1-7 years, 7-25 years or 25+ years out.
  • We think about it more in terms of the size, complexity and cost of the innovation: small, large or portfolio ideas/innovation are managed in different ways and therefore need to be addressed with different objectives and goals.
  • Innovation is a bit of a troubling word for us though, it is dirty, overused, ill-defined, its isolating in some ways (like an exclusive club). People think they cannot do/or do not do innovation, when in fact they do, and we want them all to do so. Innovation comes in many forms, and I think we need to recognise and celebrate this more.

Do we all have a common goal to engage and involve everyone in innovation across our firms?

  • A communal yes (from everyone), but it’s easy to say and really hard to achieve in practice.
  • In general, there needs to be a few things in place, at a high level:
    • Orientation framework – the rules of engagement and strategy for innovation.
    • Paradigms – Defined innovation paradigms with clear top-down sponsorship, ownership and where those leaders are acting as role models and champions in terms of their activity, behaviours, priorities etc.
    • Cross-functional mindset – a shift in culture and mindset, away from the conventional attitude of team, to a new paradigm of team.

How do you take the stereotype out of innovation? 

  • The definition of innovation and the metrics we use to measure our innovation efforts and outputs, define how people see innovation.
  • It’s about being clear and consistent about what we want and aligning all aspects of reward and recognition to this – there are too many areas where we say we want one outcome, but the incentives are driving a totally different outcome and set of behaviours.
  • I agree, we need to align the definition with the recognition and communicate this, so that everyone is steering towards the same goal.
  • Culture change can be a very difficult topic to broach and makes people uncomfortable. We have started focusing much more on behaviours, which are easier to define and measure and bringing in the tools that foster new ways of working which ultimately (over time) will drive and require culture change.

Where are the blockers in your innovation culture?

  • I see strong leadership from the top and a clear mandate, some good activity from the bottom-up, but, it’s in the middle management layer where this lives or dies.
  • I agree with this, we need to look at the incentives, KPIs and roles we are setting to our managers and try to unlock the resistance or barriers to the outcomes we are seeking.
  • I don’t necessarily agree that leaders are giving a clear mandate is an acceptable enough answer. Do they exhibit the behaviours, demonstrate the trust, have the right KPIs and incentives themselves to really drive the stated objectives down into the organisation? Nice words and a ‘mandate to innovate’ will never be enough.
  • One of the big challenges is that there isn’t a true owner for this at the top of the business, it (probably) needs to be the CEO, but how can we get this onto the CEO dashboard and consistently into the strategic and operating lens of the organisation?

What does failure mean to you, or how do you define it?

  • Failure to us, is that the idea didn’t deliver what was expected AND we didn’t learn anything from this outcome.
  • We are getting better at embracing failure, but there is some way to go. It’s a work in progress.
  • The key part of failing, is learning from it so that it doesn’t happen again. Failures should be recorded, filed and brought up when needed. People often don’t want to talk about past failures – but I think it’s key in driving the business forward. The key to innovation is failing fast and learning from it.

Closing remarks

I had a great afternoon hosting this roundtable and thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Many of the themes discussed in our roundtable discussion are similar to the challenges facing our customers at Wazoku.

We’ve now launched an open innovation community on our idea management platform to address some of the key innovation challenges from the event. We aim to use this version of our platform to fuel questions, engage innovators and be a platform for knowledge sharing.

We’re inviting you to join the community to learn, ask questions and collaborate with your fellow innovation peers. Join the open innovation community!

Simon Hill, Founder and CEO, Wazoku

simon hill wazoku

By Wazoku

Wazoku is an innovation SaaS business that helps some of the world’s biggest organizations to innovate at scale. Whether it’s making the most of your employee's ideas, identifying new partners to collaborate with, or exploring the boundless potential of open innovation – or all three! – Wazoku makes innovation happen.