How to Shift Your Internal Culture Towards Innovation
Is your company doing all it can to encourage different thinking? Here are four key important factors to shifting your internal culture towards innovation.
Join the DZone community and get the full member experience.Join For Free
What do you think about when you hear “innovation"? Do you think of innovative business leaders? Innovative products? New ideas? Do you think about the innovative cultures that made these business leaders, products, or ideas? Or, better yet, do you ever think of your company as being “innovative”?
Innovative company cultures are often viewed as this thing your organization does or does not have. And while most organizations recognize the importance of creating innovative company environments, I would bet most are unsure of how to do so.
While there is no singular way to grow an innovative culture, I believe the path to creating an innovative culture isn’t as complex as it may seem. In fact, in the organizations that I’ve observed and participated in, I have found four incredibly simple factors that are needed to create an innovative company culture.
First, What Is a Culture of Innovation?
A culture of innovation means ideas can come from anywhere. At Particle, one simple value we embrace is being open to new ideas, regardless if they haven’t worked in the past or if there is some initial hesitation from others.
This is a great way to tap into every employee’s talent. This can even include incredibly simple innovative ideas. For instance: a coworker once asked if we could change our sprint schedules from two to three weeks so we could tackle larger projects. By accepting this simple idea, our team was able to identify potential problems with our sprint schedule and determine efficiency. As a result, some of Particle’s most innovative changes have come from just accepting simple ideas from anywhere.
The 4 Main Factors of An Innovative Culture
- Leadership defines and sets an example of what innovation means for their organization.
- Managers need to be accepting of new ideas and not be there to judge innovation.
- Employees appreciate the role they play and take active steps to change and present new ideas.
- A collective mindset to discover the right problem and clarify business objectives.
1. Leaders Need to Set an Example
First and foremost, leaders need to define what innovation means for their organization. This means setting the example by bringing innovative ideas to the table, sponsoring new ideas from employees, and pushing innovation at every level of the business. This can mean setting growth metrics and KPIs (key performance metrics) that encourage innovation, or anything that shows employees that you're interested in innovative ideas. Ultimately, leaders may set the example, but innovation comes from the bottom up by empowering those who work directly with the product in their day-to-day work. The leader’s role is to make sure every person feels like they matter and have a connection to the company’s larger objectives.
“Jeff George, global head of Sandoz, goes out of his way to recruit, develop, acknowledge and appreciate people. Members of his team consider working with him one of the best experiences of their careers. George drives business results because he creates a great culture.” — Forbes
2. Managers Are Not There to Judge Innovation
Second, and possibly the most important, managers need to be accepting of new ideas and not be there to judge innovation. In any company culture, there should be internal processes in place that encourage employees to take innovative steps, whether that is through self-improvement (like making a presentation when they typically wouldn’t) or coming up with ideas that solve business problems. Managers should accept ideas with openness and allow future actions to be taken.
For instance, in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, we have learned that it’s typically not the directors or managers who are looking to innovate in IoT. It’s through recommendations from their engineering or marketing teams to start innovating in IoT solutions, which goes to show that the best ideas come from the bottom, up.
3. Employees Appreciate the Role They Play
When we talk about innovation, we sometimes overly focus on what leaders and managers need to do to create innovative cultures. While they are important to setting innovative standards and making sure employees feel appreciated, employees need to appreciate what they do to bring innovation. In other words, employees that love their work will feel like bringing innovative ideas to the table. As an employee, you need to let managers know about your innovative ideas.
If you don’t like what you do, change it. And no, that doesn’t always mean you have to look for a new job if you don’t like your role. Sometimes we are forced to, especially in large companies where employees are expected to stick to their role. But if you don’t like what you’re doing, start doing projects that interest you. Propose them to your boss, get stuff done, set the standard.
4. A Collective Mindset to Discover the Right Problem
An innovative culture possesses a collective mindset to discover the right business problems. To create this culture, leaders need to train their employees not to accept the status quo and examine the larger picture. This means cultivating cross-communication and getting teams to collaborate on innovative ideas. All too often, organizations kill innovation because they pigeonhole certain functions: sales sells, engineers code, etc. Instead, open the door for engineers to talk to customers and then participate in product roadmap conversations. Bring sales into persona development and marketing campaign conversations. An innovative culture focuses on people, and always tries to provide value to its employee, customers, and business.
In order to have a collective mindset to discover the right problem, you also must accept the assumption that you are going to be wrong more often than right. Leaders need to encourage employees that taking a risk is fine, which is done by making failure an acceptable outcome. This doesn’t mean failure to execute, but the failure of a well thought out and well-executed initiative. If the idea is not given a safe space, your rising stars will end up being those who are most effective at managing their personal image via a track record protected from blemish rather than your best strategic thinkers.
The Bottom Line
While there are certainly more things you could add to this list, consider how these innovative factors are showing up (or not showing up) in your own company culture. What can your organization do differently?
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.