Establish Innovation In Your Company’s Culture With These 7 Tips
Any business that wants to stay ahead of the game needs a competitive advantage. And in order to keep themselves on top, they need to be innovative. However, consistently delivering products, services, and processes that stand out from the competition is no easy feat. There’s one thing that you can find in common with organizations that push boundaries and become leaders in their industries: they nurture innovation within their company.
Innovation however is not limited to tangible improvements to existing products or developing new processes. At its core, innovation is a mindset to how your company approaches problems and finds solutions. As Nick Skillicorn says, innovation is turning an idea into a solution that adds value from a customer or stakeholders perspective.
Driving high performance and innovation therefore go hand-in-hand. The market recognises this, and the need for innovation can be boiled down to five factors:
- Innovation boosts long-term financial performance
- Customers are demanding innovation
- It’s easier for competitors to copy prior innovations
- New technologies make it easy for organizations to innovate
- Prior solutions increasingly no longer work, or are no longer relevant
So in order to be adaptive and succeed, companies must create a culture that cultivates creativity and innovation. An organization’s culture is innovative when it truly supports and values discovery and creativity at every level. However, building this can be tricky and surprisingly paradoxical.
In the Harvard Business Review, Gary Pisano discusses how difficult it is for organizations to successfully create an innovative company culture due to the inconsistencies required. For example, organizations must be able to balance;
- Tolerance for failure with intolerance for incompetence
- Willingness to experiment while maintaining high levels of discipline
- Psychological safety with brutal candor
Pisano captures the idea that creating a culture of innovation is not as simple as vaguely encouraging employees to be creative and giving them the freedom to experiment.
Everything in a company contributes to its culture – from the organizational structure to the team-building activities to the technology used. Here are some things you can do to help create a more innovative company culture:
1. Teach your employees to be innovative
To create a culture of innovation in your company, an innovative mindset in your employees is a must. Many believe that innovation or creativity comes naturally and isn’t something that can be taught. This isn’t true, and believing so will have massive costs in the long run! Innovative thinking can be taught and practiced, but the effort needs to be put in from the top.
According to Gary Hamel in HBR, individuals must be taught to do these four things to build innovation:
- Challenge invisible orthodoxies: Instead of just following precedent, individuals must be taught to seek to do existing tasks differently. By fostering a mindset that prioritises efficiency, this can yield dividends quickly.
- Harness underappreciated trends: Keep an eye on the trends that your competitors haven’t noticed yet and figure out how to use them to depart from tradition. An example is Apple’s most successful product, the iPhone. Predicting their customer’s needs and combining their two existing products, the iPod and iTunes, with a phone and a camera, Apple capitalized on an early trend and caused huge market disruption.
- Leverage embedded competencies and assets: Encourage your employees to see the organization as more than what it sells or does. Innovators see the potential in their organization’s skills and assets, to be endlessly reimagined into new products and businesses.
- Address unarticulated needs: Observe your customer and learn from their behaviors and unexpressed needs. This will determine where you can solve pain points through innovation.
With some training and opportunities to practice, an innovative mindset will drive high-performance in your team.
2. Make the resources needed available
If your team is going to have the chance to come up with new and exciting ideas, they’re going to need the resources available to do it. Time, money, personnel, and technology are essential to your employees the freedom needed to innovate. They’ll also need the resources to implement their ideas.
For example, imagine working at a company that preaches innovation, but in reality, your work day is constantly consumed by unnecessary busywork that eats up your time. Time is money, and companies need to be ruthlessly efficient with it.
Ensuring a flow of resources to your team will give them the space and time to conjure and implement those brilliant ideas. This process perpetuates your company’s innovative culture, as it inspires employees to keep innovating. Plus, other employees will be encouraged to innovate when they see their peers making a difference. One study that analyzed the impact of organizational culture on creativity and innovation found a correlation between the implementation of ideas and the willingness of employees to innovate. When employees’ ideas are implemented, they are more likely to continue to innovate. Who wouldn’t be pumped by your great idea becoming the next big feature at work?
3. Foster psychological safety so your employees are comfortable sharing
Psychological safety in the workplace is more important than ever, and it’s the key to a culture of innovation. Simply put, it’s the ability to be yourself without fear of negative consequences to self-worth or career.
Take the classic film The Devil Wears Prada – nightmare boss Miranda Priestley was brutally harsh and casually cruel. A prime example of a leader that did not foster psychological safety, making those under her feel small and silly. While her outfits were fabulous, the office morale was not. An extreme example this may be, but the rule stands that inspiration to innovate isn’t going to happen when your team is apprehensive at sharing their ideas.
Here are a few things that leaders can do to ensure that their workplace is psychologically safe:
- Create a space where employees feel free to learn, collaborate, contribute and push boundaries without fear of consequence.
- Acknowledge your own faults while continuing to demonstrate curiosity and innovation in your work.
- Encourage trying new things and engaging in activities beyond their usual scope of work.
- Recognize your team for their accomplishments and praise them for trying, even when they fail.
Remember, the nature of innovation means that most ideas won’t be suitable. And that’s ok! After all, spitballing 99 unworkable ideas to get 1 brilliant one is a far better trade than no brilliant ideas at all.
4. Support collaboration and communication through team bonding
A strong team that can communicate effectively is more likely to collaborate. Collaboration is what leads to better innovation. Often different departments need to come together to implement a new initiative, so it’s important that your employees are able to work together no matter their background or personality.
Incorporate team-building activities on a regular basis that encourage your employees to bond and get to know how to work with one another. Go beyond the Friday happy hour and come up with activities that encourage your team to practice innovation and creativity. This could be taking them to an escape room challenge or even doing a relay race. You’ll kill two birds with one stone by getting them to collaborate while stretching their innovation muscles.
5. Don’t punish failure but reward success
If you want an innovative culture, failure is going to be a given. It’s a reality of trying to innovate that ideas that sound great on paper don’t always work out. Organizations that don’t celebrate innovative failures will find that their employees quickly become hesitant to experiment and think outside the box.
Rather, it’s important to recognise that there are important learnings and takeaways from all outcomes. Always praise your employees for their willingness to take a chance and run with an idea. You’ll be rewarded with a workplace that will care about getting your business to the top.
However, organizations must be able to praise failure while having an intolerance for incompetence. As much as you want your employees to try and make their crazy ideas work, the crazy ideas have to be rooted in reality.
6. Consistently align your employees with the Strategic Vision
A culture of innovation means that innovation is an integral part of your company’s values and goals. Therefore your company’s definition of innovation must be clearly defined and integrated into your ethos. All employees, from the C-suite to the new hire, must be aligned with this. When employees are aligned and invested in the organization’s mission, they’re more likely to contribute to its success.
This requires skillful and consistent communication. Develop a Strategic Roadmap that clearly aligns your organisation’s goals with the ‘how’. Don’t let it gather dust: use it! Frame every idea into how this can drive your organization’s goals.
When you clearly articulate to your employees what innovation looks like, and how their innovation fits within the strategic plan, you will have employees that actively participate in the culture of innovation, no matter who they are or what department they work in.
7. Keep track of innovation, and reward as required
Like any output in an organization, you will want to keep track of the innovation effort and have a rewards system in place. Innovation metrics can be placed into two categories – input metrics vs. output metrics. Input metrics measure the relevance and amount of activities while output metrics measure whether the activities have impacted your goals.
Input metrics could include the R&D spend as a percentage of sales or the number of new ideas in the pipeline, whereas output metrics could be the number of new products launched in a period of time or the ROI from an innovative project. You should also measure your company’s culture for innovativeness through metrics like the number of employees participating in innovation activities, or the number of employees trained in innovation methodologies.
The reward for innovation should be generous, consistent, and public. Reward your team not only when their innovative ideas are successful, but when they take risks too. Even verbal acknowledgments in team meetings or investing in their training further go a long way.
Companies that incorporate formal innovation programs into the workplace will grow 3 times more during a 5-year period than those without. That’s huge. An innovative culture can take your company from one that makes ends meet to one that defines an industry’s next generation. So establish and elevate your company’s culture of innovation with these 7 tips and get ready to make your mark on the world.