Fostering culture of innovation: practices, benefits and case studies
Following with the previous article on the key attitudes for building a culture of innovation, this is to explain the strategies that make innovation thrive within the organization. First of all, leaders have to be committed, walk their talk, encourage risk-taking and unconventional thinking, and push people to explore beyond their comfort zone. The leaders’ behavior is the main key success factor in the development of a new culture, as they shape others’ behaviors. Many strategies can contribute in building an innovative culture:
- Embracing innovation at the leadership level. Assume that innovation is a key driver of the corporate strategy that needs to be fostered throughout the organization. Reflect on attitudes to promote or to change for the leaders to engage management levels.
- Identifying new potential leaders. Look for individuals who already act, to some extent, as network brokers and improve their coaching and leadership skills so they can further improve the performance of other people involved in innovation tasks. Give them recognition and further empowerment to lead innovation projects to set an example for the rest.
- Creating opportunities for quick success. Especially at the beginning, it is good to have some innovation projects which are likely to be successful in the short term, so as to make people see positive results and boost engagement. A first positive experience is critical to get them involved in an innovative culture.
- Providing a sense of empowerment. Everybody needs to know that it is encouraged to question current practices and to bring in fresh new ideas, for which they are to be rewarded. Ultimately, listening to a wider range of insights than you normally hear is the key to promoting original thinking. Everybody’s contribution should be welcome.
- Defining the innovation goals and strategy. Choose the innovation that drives growth and helps meet strategic objectives, communicating clearly the expected outcomes. When senior executives ask for innovation in the gathering of consumer insights, the delivery of services, or the consumer experience, they tell employees the type of innovation they expect.
- Setting innovation performance metrics. Performance indicators should encompass mainly financial and behavioral metrics. They can also set metrics to foster outsourcing ideas, like requiring a minimum of ideas from outer sources or other innovation friendly behaviors.
- Designing innovation networks. Since new ideas spur more new ideas, networks generate a cycle of innovation. By focusing on getting the most from innovation networks, leaders can therefore capture more value from existing resources. Decentralizing networks enhances collaboration and performance for the innovation challenges.
- Creating a culture of originality. Many people are capable of creating new ideas, although they need the right environment to do so. By giving employees opportunities and incentives to generate new ideas and setting a meritocratic system, considering the top performers’ opinion for the evaluation of new ideas, organizations boost their innovation performance.
- Cultivating cohesion and dissent. Make dissent one of your organization’s core values. Create an environment where people can openly share critical opinions and are respected for doing so. Despite sounding contradictory, a combination of the two is what brings novel ideas to the table while keeping enough harmony in the organization to facilitate cooperation.
- Prioritizing organizational values. Give people a framework for choosing between conflicting opinions and allowing the best ideas to win out. Values need to be rank-ordered so that when employees face choices between competing options, they know what goes first.
- Leveraging incoming talent. Empower and encourage new hires to challenge “the company way”, so as to bring a new perspective. Their experience may bring in new ideas and approaches, and also contribute to broaden other employees’ mind. It is interesting to hire talent coming not only from competitors but also from other innovative industries.
- Mentoring participants to broaden their mind. Innovative thinking requires open mindset to start. This is not only necessary for the innovators themselves, but also for the rest of the organization, to prevent them from becoming innovation anti-champions and sabotage innovation efforts. This mentoring is to make them consider innovation positive for them too.
- Educating in the tolerance to failure. Embracing failure is an unavoidable step to succeed in any venture, and so it is for the innovation efforts. Many cultures regard failure as a shameful fact in the performance track record, but organizations focused on and successful with their innovation efforts embrace failure as a natural part of the process.
- Creating an incentive system. This is a key strategy to creating trust and engagement. It should not only reward all participants according to their contribution, but also create a framework to build contributors’ reputation, which is eventually taken into account when choosing the appropriate team members for certain projects or to decide upon promotions.
- Manage innovation inhibitors. Fear of failure, vertical hierarchy, mistrust and fearful environment, rewarding short-term performance over long-term oriented plans, closeness to new approaches are –among others- cultural attributes that prevent innovation from thriving. Incentive systems oriented towards these behaviors are usually one of the main inhibitors.
Beyond the strategies to create a culture of innovation, leaders need to bear in mind that the key mindsets to build such culture are trust and engagement. As Steven Covey noted, “trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create –much faster than you probably think possible”. Developing and nurturing trust within your organization is likely to lead to more efficiency, improved teamwork and a better work environment. There are many courses of action that may contribute to building trust among the members of the organization:
- Demonstrate trust through employee empowerment. Articulating the corporate values is necessary, but consistently living those values by walking your talk is what actually builds trust. Empowering employees is an actionable and impactful way to show your trust in them.
- Commit to transparency and communication. Honest and open communication also helps in building trust. Be sure that your organization has an effective way to share information with employees and be transparent with them as well when they demand it.
- Create systems for failure. You want your employees to be active and take initiative. So long as failures are unavoidable at some point, it is important that those who take initiative do not fear it, but rather take the opportunity to learn from every failure to leap forward.
Apart from trust, engagement is another key mindset to develop in order to reach high performance, both in terms of innovation outcomes and in the overall results.
This article is from the Whitepaper “Building a culture of collaboration and innovation” written by Jordi Pera, Founder and CEO at Envisioning Tourism 3.0 Ltd. You may download for free the full Whitepaper at www.envisioningtourism.com/whitepapers