Seven ways to create an innovative culture
Many businesses profess to having an innovative culture, but how do you go from a culture of ‘doing it like we’ve always done it‘ to taking some risks and and doing things differently?
Here are seven approaches that can be used in organisations that will start to move your business from stale and risk averse to entrepreneurial and innovative.
Define innovation clearly – Ensure all stakeholders (employees, customers and suppliers) are clear on what you want to achieve with your innovation strategy. Cris Beswick, Innovation troubleshooter, articulates the point perfectly here in a reply to my comment on his Linkedin post – https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6346259645513887744 . “The core challenge for the majority of organisations, despite frantic activity and ‘theatre’ around innovation is lack of an innovation strategy at senior team level. The development of a holistic, strategic approach to innovation starts with the understanding, agreement and articulation of just what ‘innovation’ is – once you have that, the rest becomes infinitely easier to navigate.”
Translate innovation strategy into action – An organisations innovation related, top down / strategic goals should translate to tangible actions that managers and employees can understand. It’s no good telling employees that one of your core values is ‘innovation’ if there is little understanding or direction of what you mean by innovation. As well as value statements, innovation should have clear and measurable deliverables that can be broken down into achievable projects and actions that employees will deliver.
Environment – Clean desk policy might have reduced clutter and improved data security in organisations, but it has also depersonalised the workspace. People spend a huge amount of time at their desks and in offices so effort should be made to create a space that is both comfortable and inspirational. This will help employees reconnect with their natural creative self. If an office resembles a minimalist human battery farm you are unlikely to inspire employees to participate in innovative activities that require them to think beyond their day job. Not all organisations can afford a workplace that resemble the Google offices, but thought should be given to making offices inspirational and creative spaces.
Open and collaborative – Innovation requires teams of people to work together on novel ideas. It is essential therefore that people are encouraged to work together across organisational boundaries. The ‘silo’ mentality that exists in so many organisations needs to be broken down, allowing organisations to become creative communities rather than human resources.
Carrot and stick – I am not a fan of the stick but employees are expected to come to work to deliver value to the organisation. Why not include elements of innovation in their job description and performance management targets. Senior managers should be accountable for delivering innovation, middle managers responsible for demonstrating their teams contribution to innovation and employees responsible for getting involved in some way. Rewarding those who have excelled by rewarding excellent ideas, project teams and successful delivery of new products and processes will provide the carrot element.
Manage risk – A risk averse environment can kill innovation before it even gets off the ground. Radical ideas are completely discounted, projects and initiatives are not funded (or grossly underfunded) and only the smallest incremental innovation is given airtime. The result is that innovation will deliver practically no value. Risk must be embraced and managed. The challenges of managing a budget must be balanced with the potential rewards of delivering innovative new solutions. Adopting Lean-start up, fail-fast and managing innovation through a robust process will help to manage the inherent risk.
Time – Employees require some slack to innovate. If your employees are overworked, stressed and working long hours without reward, they will not innovate. Use automation, efficiency and bureaucracy reduction to increase the remit of your workforce rather than eliminate jobs. As more automation creeps into the workplace many jobs are being eliminated, which is a missed opportunity for some organisations to refocus their employees on more creative activities. Give employees a little space and ask them to use it creatively. Creating ‘time to innovate’ by decree, for example, a set amount of time per month to innovate, is one way to do this. However, producing a working environment where employees are not under continual stress and fear will help them to access their natural creative abilities.
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