Innovation is a baseline expectation for all organisations. It’s something that every business strives for, yet many struggle to achieve. What does it really mean to be innovative? And how can business leaders promote and nurture a culture of innovation across their workforce?
Countless studies have proved that financial success can be achieved when organisations have innovation at the heart of their culture. In fact, a study by Accenture revealed that 51% of businesses with a formal innovation system in place are first to market with new innovations, products and services.
As TomTom recognised, to develop a culture of innovation, it’s important that there is an organisational mindset that promotes and supports the ideas of individuals. It must be accepted across all levels of the organisation that your culture is more than an abstract concept. Instead, it’s a way to produce measurable and quantifiable change. It isn’t always easy to create a culture of innovation, but it’s one of the best ways to drive sustainable competitive advantage. It’s about focusing on tomorrow, as much as today.
Even with a plethora of creative ideas, bringing new innovations to fruition requires strategy and execution. Many organisations struggle to fill this gap. Having a formal innovation system and structure in place can see your organisation reap significant rewards and create enhanced ROI. But it requires paying constant attention to the culture that you nurture within the workplace. We believe that the most successful, innovative companies have nine key traits in common. Create a business culture with each of these elements, and your organisation is likely to be innovation-ready.
The Nine Indicators Of Innovation
Trust is a safety net. It gives your employees permission to try something new, even if they don’t know what the outcome will be. It enables innovation by providing an atmosphere that accepts mistakes will happen from time to time, but the important thing is that you learn from them. Leaders must trust their people to find creative solutions and push the boundaries, within the context of a broader transformation plan.
Curiosity is the lifeblood of creativity. To build a culture of innovation, leaders must nurture critical thinking, and allow their people to challenge authority and speak up about their ideas, even if it means creating discord. As a leader, your behaviours will have a strong influence on the behaviour and performance of your teams. With this in mind, it’s important that you practise what you preach and demonstrate how you unlock your curiosity. Your people will follow suit.
We’re all natural experimenters. We practise, we succeed, we fail – and then we experiment again. Organisations thrive when their people have time to try new approaches and learn from their successes and their failures. Gathering the thoughts of consumers, employees, investors, competitors, and even machines and systems can help to inform new approaches.
In any project or workflow, it’s inevitable that roadblocks will emerge that hamper progress. But successful companies are persistent, and they adapt their approach when issues arise. Things don’t always go completely to plan, but the best organisations embrace change and ambiguity, and expect hurdles on their route. They understand that opportunity can often be found through flexibility and agility.
Blend talent with direction, determination and passion, and you’ll have grit. During inevitable difficulties, people with grit have strength of character, resolve and courage. As with curiosity, it’s important that you lead by example. As a leader, if you make a mistake, accept responsibility and learn the lessons so as not to repeat them. Successful companies acknowledge failure, seek ways to mitigate fallout, and avoid pointing fingers or blaming others.
In any working group, each individual plays two roles: a functional role, based on their formal position and technical skill, and a psychological role, based on the kind of person they are. Too many companies focus on each individual’s functional role, and hope that good team performance will somehow follow. But that’s not always the case. Observing the balance of roles in a team offers insight into its dynamics. It also indicates the likelihood of success or failure for an assigned task.
Old assumptions can be dangerous. For innovation to happen, you need diverse perspectives. To make organisations more diverse, the focus shouldn’t just be on addressing bias. Organisations should also turn their attention to conscious inclusion – ensuring all people feel that their human potential is valued. Change can come from individuals. Ask yourself: What will you commit to make it happen? Who will you sponsor and who will you invite in?
Successful innovation is driven by a clear vision and purpose. This needs to be articulated openly and regularly to set the parameters for new ideas. It’s important that your people understand the company’s roadmap and hopes for the future, so they can put forward ideas that will support the journey. Complement this with open networks and feedback loops marked by candour and constructiveness.
What you know today is less relevant than what you may learn in the future; and knowing the answer to questions is less critical than having the ability to ask the right questions in the first place. Hire people with high learnability – the desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt one’s skill set. Too often we focus on training and development, while undermining the importance of proper selection. But the reality is that it’s easier to prevent and predict, than to fix and change. Good selection makes training and development more effective because it’s easier to augment potential.
Investing in innovation and culture as an inextricable pair will prepare any organisation for its digital future. Done well, the return can be significant and swift. Yet, organisations must be clear in building a culture that walks its talk. Employees cannot hear their leaders celebrate disruption, only to be punished for risk-taking. Corporate websites shouldn’t be filled with statements about valuing innovation, if the organisation is hyper-focused on cost-cutting to produce short-term results. This is the balancing act for any organisational culture change.
This article first appeared in the tenth edition of The Human Age Newspaper.