10 Keys to Creating a Culture of Innovation
Most organizations recognize the importance of innovation in advancing their competitive position or improving their business operations. However, many do not recognize that successful innovation is built on a series of key components, not simply generating a lot of new ideas. The biggest element to success in becoming an innovative company is to create a “culture” of innovation, an environment that encourages creative ideas and discovery on an ongoing basis. Here are ten areas that can help build a culture of innovation within your firm:
Keys to Creating a Culture of Innovation
- Define Innovation - One of the most basic elements of creating a culture of innovation is the definition the enterprise wishes to adopt or outline for itself. This can vary dramatically from enterprise to enterprise, but ensuring your definition is understandable and relatable throughout your organization is key. Each enterprise needs to create a definition that is aligned to the objectives that their innovation program is targeting; and deliver some positive outcome whether it is tangible value, creation of new markets, or a competitive advantage. Truly innovative companies communicate their vision clearly and make their messaging simple, repeatable, and relatable, which enables their employees to think expansively.
- Leadership - The role of leadership cannot be underestimated either. Creative innovation can be stifled when team members don’t feel their contributions are valued, or even worse, when leaders discourage risk taking. To truly foster a culture of innovation, leaders must weave innovation into the values, norms, unconscious messages, and subtle behaviors of the entire workforce and reinforce them regularly.
- Use Metrics - Successful innovation thrives on execution, but if it can't be measured, it can't be acknowledged, promoted or supported. Once business owners have defined what they mean by innovation, it's time to establish numbers to measure it. This could be an increase in customer satisfaction as a result of new hypotheses or ideas, more efficient implementation of quality ideas, improved quality of ideas in general, or improved success achieved from the implementation of improved products, services, or programs.
- Eliminate Fear - Innovation is about trying things that have never been done before. Encourage employees to run with their ideas through a controlled discovery process (ideation, evaluation, selection, development, and implementation), and do not criticize failure. Great ideas often need to be honed, and even when an interesting idea fails upon first execution, it may prove groundbreaking with some modification. Failing fast and embracing lots of little experiments with the idea that some will work and grow and others will fail is a key component to building a culture of innovation.
- Increase Autonomy - The best products, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing, autonomous, or empowered teams. These teams stimulate participation and involvement, and choose how best to accomplish their work. An effect of this is increased emotional attachment to the products and services of the organization, resulting in greater commitment, motivation, and desire for responsibility. This leads to greater creativity, helpful behavior, higher productivity and greater service quality.
- Build Regularity - A culture of innovation is most effective when it becomes a regular part of business. Employees should feel comfortable exploring new ideas on an ongoing basis, not just once in awhile for the sake of special projects. It is important to make innovation a normal part of business without allowing it to become too routine or stale.
- Implement Process - Contrary to common perception, process is not the antithesis of creative innovation, but the glue that holds it together and gives order to the random and unstructured ideas that continuously erupt within the enterprise. A well-architected innovation program, built on a relevant, enterprise-aligned framework greatly increases the probability of achieving meaningful results and overall success.
- Diversity - Great innovation comes from collaboration with peers and co-workers. Bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming together helps everyone explore faster, take risks together, and fail early in order to learn what might work and might not. A famous proverb notes that, “None of us are as smart as all of us” and numerous studies have shown that diversity is a key driver for innovation. A diverse set of backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints is essential for generating new ideas.
- Unstructured Time - Innovation needs time to develop and employees are often consumed with putting out fires and chasing short-term targets and therefore don’t have the opportunity to think about the future. Provide team members with free time to experiment with new ideas or to take “idea days”, paid days off to work on any problem they want.
- Communicate - Good communication is an essential tool in achieving productivity and maintaining strong working relationships at all levels of an organization. Employers who invest time and ensure open and clear lines of communication exist, will rapidly build up trust amongst employees, leading to increases in innovation, productivity, output and morale in general.
Organizations that develop a culture of creative innovation are more likely to experience longevity and success. If you seriously want your business to innovate, you have to establish innovation as a strategic imperative. You can help do this by weaving these key components across your enterprise and embracing them as a part of your operations. Ensuring innovation isn't just a management pitch, but a true commitment is essential. Once this culture is established, companies can enjoy the benefits of having loyal employees who feel encouraged to think, plan and develop in creative ways that can take their business in a new and even more successful direction.
About the Author
Tristan Boutros is the award winning author of The Process Improvement Handbook: A Blueprint for Managing Change and Increasing Organizational Performance and The Basics of Process Improvement, both available on Amazon.com. He is also Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer at The New York Times where he oversees Program Management, Process Improvement, Strategy and Enterprise Architecture. He holds over 10 professional designations including his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (LSSBB), Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Scrum Professional (CSP), and his Master Project Manager (MPM) certification. He has over 10 years of business, technology, and management consulting experience at companies such as Pernod Ricard, IAC, DTE Energy, BlackBerry, and Warner Music Group and has been a successful entrepreneur. A skilled facilitator and change agent, he specializes in delivering rapid business value using numerous Agile & Lean techniques and methods.
Follow him via Twitter @TristanBoutros