How can organisations create a culture of innovation?
26 April 2022 • 3 min read
Innovation isn't something that just happens: it needs the right conditions and culture in order to become part of an organisation's DNA. However, implementing the practices, processes, and values to ensure innovation is at the heart of what you do is far from straightforward. Despite the ease with which the term is applied today, the reality is that embedding innovation into the way individuals think and work is an ongoing challenge that requires constant attention.
In the third and final event in our Guiding Your Digital Future series (on Thursday April 28), we'll be looking closely at how organisations can build a culture of innovation. AND Digital's Chief for Market Impact, Gerald Hogg, will be talking with Cris Beswick - author of ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’ - about the ideas, techniques, and approaches that leaders can use to foster a truly innovative culture. To whet your appetite and prepare for the session, we caught up with Gerald to get his perspective on some of the issues that he'll be chatting about with Cris...
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Thanks for chatting Gerald! To kick off, could you explain what a culture of innovation is, exactly? What does it look like?
Innovation is essentially the implementation of anything that adds value in an efficient way. Culture, meanwhile, is everything - from values to behaviour that define an organisation or team.
So, if you bring those two definitions together, a culture of innovation is one where people are completely focused on ways of adding value. It's about more than just the financial outcome; a culture of innovation ensures that an organisation is more resilient, more agile, and can respond more effectively to change. The impact of this is that it will then be able to attract more customers and more talent at less cost.
How can a culture of innovation be built?
First, strategy and culture need to align. Doing so ensures that innovation not only has purpose, but that it is sustainable too.
It isn't, however, a one size fits all approach. Every organisation has a different culture mix and level of innovation maturity. This means they all differ in terms of their starting point, the journey they need to take, and the pace at which they can move.
It's a transformation journey that requires clarity about the "Why." It needs to have buy-in from the very top of the organisation, investment in a capable innovation leadership team, as well as a definition and design for what the future of the organisation and its culture will look like. It needs also to bring the whole organisation along, simultaneously iterating while staying focused on outcomes.
What does it not look like? What are the pitfalls of trying to build a culture of this kind?
One of the pitfalls is succumbing to "innovation theatre." This is where we make a lot of noise about being innovative when in reality we are only tinkering around the edges.
It can also be easy to mistake lots of small scale continual improvement efforts - which do not ultimately move the needle - for innovation. This is often the case where the purpose of innovation isn't clear. This is why it's important to ensure that innovation delivers new or different solutions to genuine customer problems, adds genuine value, and, in doing so, provides tangible returns for the organisation.
Alternatively, another pitfall is when we look only at big innovation bets, sometimes by bringing them in from the outside of the business through corporate venturing or acquisitions. In some instances, the corporate DNA rejects what it sees as "foreign bodies," which prevents you from properly leveraging the innovation capability at the core of the organisation. That can only be done by introducing the right culture and practices.
How important are leaders in building a culture of innovation? Is there a particular kind of leader or approach that is really effective in driving innovation?
Without leadership there can be no innovation. It's the role of leadership to ask the right questions and to recognise the opportunities that true differentiating innovation can bring. Leaders need to be honest about the starting point, and have the clarity of purpose and vision, as well as the awareness of the importance of culture change to support innovation.
Leadership in this context means being comfortable with empowerment and collaboration. It also means accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and being ready to embrace change themselves.
Thanks for talking Gerald!
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Watch the previous events in this series: