Does Your Culture Support Innovation?
By Holly G.
There’s a lot of people talking about innovation these days,
myself included. The good news is that business leaders seem to be
sitting up and taking notice of this important subject. The bad
news is that once a topic becomes popular in the media, people have
a tendency to see it as the next “management flavor of the month.”
In other words, they perceive it as a quick fix solution rather than
a long-term change in the way they do business.
Remember a few decades ago when everyone jumped on the
continuous improvement bandwagon? Very quickly, companies of all
shapes and sizes began implementing six sigma, lean manufacturing,
and other types of process improvement programs. Many had no clue
what they were doing or worked hard without a link to overall
strategy and success. And most had very unrealistic timelines and
expectations for the results they hoped to achieve.
Not surprisingly, the continuous improvement movement failed
to produce any overnight successes. Companies that approached
continuous improvement as a quick fix soon discovered the error of
their ways, usually ending up worse off than before they started.
Those that invested the time and effort in making continuous
improvement a way of life are still reaping the dividends.
The same thing needs to happen with innovation. To succeed,
it needs to become an integral part of how you do business.
Innovation requires ways of thinking that must underlie all the
process, systems, and management behaviors in an organization.
Creating ongoing innovation in an organization needs to be thought
of as a long-term process, especially if you are used to reacting to
change rather than creating it. Most of all, innovation requires an
organizational culture that nourishes and supports it as a way of
life rather than as a short-term band-aid for current business
problems. To create a culture that encourages rather than inhibits
Create a Powerful
planning process starts with defining what winning looks like for
your organization. Creating a culture that supports innovation
begins the same way. Start by explaining why innovation is
important and how it will help your organization win. Paint a
picture of what your organization will look like when innovation
becomes a way of life and how it will benefit all your key
stakeholders. Always address the “why” before moving on to the
“what” and the “how.”
Help People Learn
to Think Differently:
Most of us don’t
really know how to pause to challenge our own assumptions, change
perspectives, or even how to consider different angles. We are not
used to slowing down just a little to consider options, balance the
big picture with the details, or seek new data. As adult humans, we
are not naturally prone to constantly test and update our mental
models about our world, our customers, our peers, and our
organization. Most of us need tools and support to learn these
critical new skills and abilities. Make sure you set your
organization up for success by providing the necessary support in
the form of learning sessions, tools, and techniques to help people
Effort to the Big Picture:
Not only do
employees need to understand why innovation is critical to the
organization, they must also understand how the work they do fits
into the overall effort. After giving employees the big picture,
tell them how and where they fit in. Ask for their input on how to
improve products, processes and workflow, and let them know they
will have some degree of autonomy in how they perform their jobs.
In addition, stress the importance of open communication up and down
the management chain as well as across teams, departments, and work
Build and Encourage
One of the quickest
ways to kill innovation is to surround yourself with people who
think the same way, make decisions the same way, and tend to avoid
conflict. Ask yourself questions like: Do we develop teams with
diverse skills and analytical styles? Do we accommodate all styles
in meetings and conversation, or do we favor one style over the
others? As an organization, do we value contention, debate, and
tension or do we constantly rush to consensus? Conversely, do we
get stuck in analysis paralysis and avoid making decisions for fear
Language and Behaviors:
Many organizations have built-in language patterns and behaviors that do
not support innovation. Seemingly innocuous phrases like “Don’t
bother, we’ve already tried that” or, “Nice idea, but management
will never go for it” can instantly shoot down any good ideas that
may arise. Instead, use language that encourages employees to
contribute ideas and stay open to new possibilities. Do not
tolerate gossiping, politicking or ridiculing new ideas, no matter
how far-fetched. If employees don’t feel safe voicing their ideas
and opinions, innovation will never happen.
It’s one of the
oldest axioms of human nature – people repeat behaviors they get
rewarded for. Does leadership in your organization give employees
continual feedback on the results of their efforts? Do you privately
acknowledge the efforts of individuals? Do you recognize them
publicly? Do you continually communicate your commitment to
innovation at all levels of the organization? Most important, do
you demonstrate that commitment by your actions and behaviors
as well as the words you say?
Talking about innovation is good. Putting it to work in your
organization is even better. For best results, link innovation to
your strategy and think of creating ongoing innovation as a
long-term process rather than a short-term goal. And make sure your
culture provides the necessary context for it to thrive.
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
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