7 Ways to Build a Culture of Innovation
If culture is the way we do things as an organisation, then a culture of innovation is the way we do innovation. It’s what we believe, how we feel, and the action we take when it comes to improving our services and the lives of our customers.
So how does an organisation reach that place where innovation becomes ubiquitous? Where it feels natural and the results can be seen and felt?
Here are 7 ways to build a culture of innovation, so you can move past one-off or disjointed innovation efforts and into something scalable and sustainable.
1.Start with an innovation vision. At the beginning of an innovation process it can be tempting to jump straight in – however in this case – effort without clear direction can be folly. Innovation without a vision is like wearing foundation without a primer. It will look good for a while, but eventually will be absorbed and you may have little to show for it. An Innovation vision (just like your company vision) should be clearly understood by everyone in your organisation and they should feel connected to it. It should provide clear direction and be an overall “guiding light” in your innovation efforts. Forbes 4 steps to defining your vision. details how pharmaceuticals company Novartis defined their vision as “We want to discover, develop and successfully market innovative products to prevent and cure diseases, to ease suffering, and to enhance the quality of life.” This vision is strong because it speaks to both the innovation ambitions of the organisation and the impact they want to have with this work.
2.Build your innovation narrative and communicate it. Your innovation narrative is what your organisation believes about innovation. Whether it’s intentional or it has evolved, an innovation narrative exists. One way to quickly discover what the prevailing innovation narrative is in your organisation is to ask colleagues (different departments and at different levels) questions including: How acceptable is risk taking in this organisation? What is the growth appetite of this company? Who does innovation belong to? And then ask for examples of behaviours that support this thinking. Once you know the current narrative you can build on it – or if needed create a new one. Atlassian’s Dom Price details their five-point ‘list’ to communicate their belief system around innovation – which is an example of how they lead the narrative.
- Innovation and creativity exist in everyone (it’s just that some of us have learnt to suppress it)
- Diversity of thought, skill, and background are essential ingredients for innovation
- Innovation can’t be forced
- People need time and space to let their creative, innovative juices flow
- All great human achievements are accomplished by teams
Finally, as the narrative evolves from something aspirational and into your reality – don’t forget to tell the stories of your success. Nothing is more powerful for building an innovation culture than witnessing the results of your innovation efforts.
3.Define your strategy. While it’s challenging to cover the topic of strategy in just a paragraph (and do it justice), a good place to start is to remember that an innovation strategy need not be complicated, and the role of strategy in building the overall culture of innovation is absolutely critical. As Roger Martin says “Strategy is not a long planning document; it is a set of interrelated and powerful choices that positions the organisation to win. Strategy can and should be simple, effective and fun”. And just like the vision, a good innovation strategy should be closely linked to your organisational strategy and requires managerial commitment. Engineering organisation Infosys’ innovation strategy (to paraphrase) is centred around accelerating growth of their client partners. To enable this strategy they committed to making design thinking a core capability for ALL staff to radically alter the way they approach problems. The strategy was so successful they rolled out the approach to clients and training clients in design thinking became more than a capability – it became how they do business.
4.Educate & Activate – The vision, narrative and strategy will provide a solid foundation for your innovation culture, but they can be a one-way street. To really engage your people, they need to feel it. And they need to know how to do it. This means building capability in methods of innovation and understanding processes for innovation and giving them opportunities to use these skills. Where do people go if they see a challenge or opportunity? Do people know what tools they can use to explore a challenge or an idea? Would your team know how to prototype an idea? This includes a path to implementation. Providing employees with the necessary information, tools and skills to enable them to innovate is the only way to genuinely bring innovation culture to life. Read about how Epworth scaled innovation capability here.
5.Collaborate: While it’s expected that (at least) one person should be responsible and accountable for driving your innovation efforts, how well this person engages and promotes collaboration is equally important. Bringing together departments and leaders around a common intention is not easy – but done well can pay dividends. Paige Talbot Innovation Leader at Latitude says “Working closely together, we are able to make sure our innovation culture and capability programs are purposefully designed, linked to our strategy, and also support the leadership, values and broader culture efforts happening across the organisation. This collaboration is also helping us to create a consistent experience while going through a time of huge transformation. After all, creating a culture of innovation is a balance between going where the energy already is, supporting pockets of innovation where it’s already happening and also agitating for change in areas where there might be more barriers (perceived or real).”
6.Create champions. Most high performing companies will agree that innovation is everyone’s responsibility, however, having a team of innovation champions can be a catalyst for accelerate this change. Especially for organisations who are early in the journey or have a legacy culture of not supporting innovation. Ideally – these should be people who have had hands-on experience on working on innovation projects. They should be clear on your innovation vision, strategy and the narrative so they can play their role as champions of this.
7.Implement (and communicate) We know, we know – easier said than done, right?! But saying that implementation is hard is not a good enough answer if you really want to build a culture of innovation. The simple truth is that many great concepts never make it to market because once inception happens ‘business as usual’ techniques are used to implement. So rather than relying on department areas to implement new ideas or the concepts that come out of your innovation programs, smooth the path to implementation by building your organisation’s capability for experimentation – to bridge that innovation void. Better yet – give your innovation champions the opportunity to lead these experiments and build capability at the same time.
And finally – once you do – Tell us about it! (Remember in point 2), there is nothing more powerful than seeing the results of innovation efforts. Sharing stories of innovation that the company has brought to market (or launched internally) can add momentum and even become a bellwether for future innovation efforts.
Now, curious humans, if you enjoyed reading this, don’t forget to share with your people, and tell us in comment a how do you build a culture of innovation your organisation? What has work, what hasn’t – we’d love to hear.
Written by Fiona Triaca, CEO @ Naked Ambition