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How to Create a Successful Culture of Innovation: Part 2

How to Create a Successful Culture of Innovation: Part 2

TLDR: This blog post is part two of a series on building an innovative culture. It provides six actions to inspire innovation and motivation in your company culture: settle on a strategy, develop creative skills, establish structures of innovation, take ideas seriously, embrace failure, and consider setting up an innovation lab. These actions require clear communication, creating a safe space for ideas, aligning leadership behaviors, valuing employee contributions, user-testing, and carefully setting up an innovation lab to avoid it becoming a mere PR stunt.

How to Create a Successful Culture of Innovation: Part 2

Where to start if you wish to inspire innovation and motivation in your company culture? Well, what about 6 actions you can start on today? What are you waiting for?

This blog post is part two in a series of three on the subject of building an innovative culture in organizations. In the previous post, we took the first stabs at navigating the wilderness of culture, exploring how culture is defined and what it is made up of. If you have no idea what culture is in an organizational context, we suggest you go back and give the first part a quick read.

Today, however, we’ll be diving into what buttons you can push to start changing things for the better.

Actions for Change

As you might recall, the conclusion from our last post was that culture is hard to change and it might have left you thinking: “why even bother, this sounds practically impossible!”,

Kind of like this guy…

You shouldn’t go there just yet; it’s more to say that this isn’t going to be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, but in fact rather difficult. On the other hand, if you do it right, it pays off big time in both employee engagement and future innovation successes.

And with this handy guide, you’re in safe hands – below we’ll walk through the most important factors in creating an innovative culture and how you can start implementing them in your team and organization.

1.Settle on a Strategy

Before doing anything, you need to ask yourself a very important question: “what are the criteria of success for my innovation?” Is your idea of an innovative culture defined?

The answers to these questions cannot be generalized, and completely up to you… I know this is the worst kind of answer, but in this case it really is up to you. Entire research articles have been published on the subject of measuring and defining innovation success. While some choose to define it according to the number of patents filed, others look at NPS to track increases in customer satisfaction.

Hence, for the KPIs of your innovation efforts, you must ask yourself what you wish to achieve. In other words, your measures of success depend entirely on the objective of your innovation efforts; are you looking to optimize processes? To discover new revenue streams or increase customer loyalty? Ensure that you have outlined and communicated your innovation strategy clearly, in order to guide yourself and your team on the journey towards building an innovative culture.

So what can you do?

  • Reflect on what kind of innovation you are looking for
  • Talk to other people about what could be good and fair measurements
  • Be careful not to put up unrealistic expectations
  • Communicate clearly and make your progress visible with dashboards

2. Creative Skills

At the very bottom of building an innovative culture, is the need for creative skills. By creative skills, we don’t mean the ability to put together a Do-It-Yourself birdhouse in under 30 min. Rather we are referring to the ability to think outside the box, to be constantly curious about customer needs and know never to take any facts for granted.

Establishing strong creative skills is to a large degree a question of habits and environments. Is innovation a once-a-year event or is it integrated into your everyday lives? Do you make sure to question what has up until now been commonly known “facts”? And more importantly, have you succeeded in creating a safe space, where team-members feel comfortable in voicing their new ideas and initiatives?

Creative skills cannot be forced by hiring more creative people. Though it is important to consider what kind of team members you take on for innovation purposes, there is no magic cure. If you take an innovative individual and place them in a team that is non-innovative, it’s most likely not going to help push the innovation agenda. In fact, under such conditions, the innovative mindset of this individual will slowly wither away and be replaced by the mindset of the existing team, due to assimilation and human group-drivers.

Moreover, if you fail in integrating innovation into the day-to-day work, your team is most likely going to feel overwhelmed when asked to come up with new innovative solutions. Resulting in non-innovative and outdated solutions to problems that your customers don’t recognize.

So what can you do?

  • Create a safe space for ideas
  • Ensure that innovation isn’t something that only happens every sixth month
  • Consider what tools can help you in making innovation an every-day endeavor
  • Hire the right people

3. Structures of Innovation

As we talked about in the first part of this series, managers are in many ways role models and inspirators and are vital in creating an innovative culture. Their behavior is scrutinized, analyzed and copied by their team and peers, adding extra weight to their decisions.

Regardless of culture, managerial traits can be broken down into four components; Trustworthiness, empowerment, consistency and mentorship. These four components coexist to varying degrees in all organizations and a big part in building an innovative culture is the manager’s ability to balance these four traits, creating the optimal structures that support an innovative culture.

Sounds pretty daunting, right? Let’s break it down. Essentially, it’s about understanding that simply telling people to be innovative isn’t gonna cut it. Managers must realize that the key to an innovative culture lies in their own ability to inspire its creation and create structures and tasks around innovation. Encourage your team to collaborate across departments and help them in establish mutual respect and trust by opening their eyes to the realities of other departments. Ensure that you pass on responsibility and autonomy, giving your employees the power to act on their initiatives.

For this to be carried out in a coordinated and goal-oriented manner, form structures around it. Develop new routines that fit the context of your existing culture and use this to nudge members towards more daily innovation. The key here is that the initiatives must fit your culture i.e. simply copying the solutions of others 1:1 is not a guarantee for success.

Open or closed structures?

An example of this is Apple’s Siri, thinking back when was the last time you were pleasantly surprised by one of her answers? It’s a pretty long time ago, am I right? Chances are that you remember one of the countless times, you desperately tried to keep your voice down while hissing “For the third time! Siri, CALL MOM…”

The poor quality of SIRI and other AI apple products can be traced back to innovation structures that are unfit for developing top-notch AI-solutions. Looking to AI champions such as Google and IBM, both are applying a very open approach to developing their AI. Apple on the other hand, is famously secretive and closed in their innovation efforts.

To develop this kind of cutting-edge technology, you need access to all of the greatest experts in the field. Qua its secretive and sealed-off innovation efforts, Apple excludes itself. In brief, Apple is failing to develop a good AI, because their culture dictates the structures in which they innovate in, closing them off from the experts in the field that are not on their payroll. They must either accept that they will always lag behind in AI or start to structure themselves differently.

So what can you do?

  • Understand your own leadership. Do you inspire innovation?
  • Are you encouraging the right initiatives? What reward-schemes do you have?
  • Fit innovation structures to your current culture

4. Get Serious about Ideas

Though managers do play a vital part in creating an innovative culture, they can’t do it by themselves. Remember, culture is the sum of your entire workforce that every day reinforces itself through the sum of the organization’s behavioral cycles. A way to change a cycle of destructive behavior is to start including people even more, in a place where their ideas are heard and valued.

Not only are your employees’ ideas good for finding new innovative products, processes or customer experiences they are also great for inspiring motivation. By listening to your team’s ideas and taking them seriously, you plant seeds of innovative motivation throughout your organizational landscape.

Start showing employees that you care about their ideas, and value their contributions to your innovation activities. Innovation shouldn’t be kept in one separate unit but should be integrated with the rest of the organization.

Keeping track of thousands of ideas and providing feedback to them all, sounds pretty daunting. Use a digital tool to help you automate this while gathering all the great ideas and people in one place. This will also allow you to easily let ideas and people find each other across your organization. Without the hassle.

So what can you do?

  • Start showing and talking about the importance of your team’s ideas
  • Be explicit about your appreciation of new initiatives
  • Award new innovation efforts
  • Get a digital tool to help you with the workload
Use the Ideanote platform to collect, qualify and act on your team’s ideas

5. Fail Fast

Innovation’s biggest enemy is the fear of failure. When embarking on a new, truly innovative journey, there are no guarantees, that it is going to be a hole-in-one. Fear of failing will effectively limit the space for innovation. This is not to say that you should aim to fail, but rather that you should limit your losses by failing fast.

Working on a solution, that according to market analysts and the guys from finance makes incredible sense, only to find out two years later, that it is the direct opposite of what users desire, is not a good strategy. A golden example of this is Coca Cola’s launch of “New Coke”. In 1981, Coca-Cola released a new formula for their otherwise well-known beverage. The “New Coke” farce has gone down in history as the greatest marketing disaster and was largely due to a lack of user testing and an excessive reliance on market researchers’ data.

Rather, aim at getting the product through processes such as user-testing or use frameworks such as design-thinking or pretotypingfor new products and solutions to ensure that they correspond to the target group’s demands and wishes. A small note; while these frameworks can help you get a good start, it’s important to remember that these methodologies are exactly that; standardized methods that cannot guarantee equal success in all situations, in light of this, before setting up your first design-thinking workshop, consider how you plan to adopt the framework to your specific needs.

So what can you do?

  • Ensure that you user-test
  • Don’t spend two years getting your first version of the product to market
  • Don’t be afraid to fail at first

6. Consider an innovation lab

Sometimes, you want to move your innovation activities away from your core business. This is a more radical approach to creating an innovative culture since it’s not an integrated part of the core company.

Now, you might think that innovation labs are only good for drinking Red Bull and playing Foosball, however, some companies have achieved magnificent things from employing this strategy. It allows a designated unit to experiment with new solutions and processes, for new revenue streams and optimization of old. Moreover, it allows the organization to avoid falling into some of its old habits. By placing the innovation activities at some distance from the core business, the risk of innovation assimilation decreases, while the chance of new and radical innovations, depending on the innovation lab setup, is more likely to occur.

However, setting up a successful innovation lab is not as easy as it might sound. Having the budget is only the first step, figuring out the formal distance to the core company, finding the right managers and managing expectations for the innovation lab is where the real work begins. It is paramount that these factors are carefully considered and executed on, otherwise, the innovation lab risks being nothing but a poorly executed PR stunt. If you are curious to know more, give this guide a read.

So what can you do?

  • Read our blog post on innovation labs
  • Consider your current innovation culture – how would the two go together?
  • Ensure you have a thought-through plan
  • Set realistic expectations for your Inno-lab

Use your common sense

Lastly, a word of caution. This list is in general terms, copy-pasting the initiatives of others will not work. Take your time to consider your own culture (not the culture you would like to have, but the ACTUAL culture.) This will help you understand what initiatives are likely to inspire the most innovative culture.

Clearly, there are a lot of different initiatives you can take to start changing things for the better. Don’t expect to get started on all of these in day one. Instead, take your time to put together a plan and a roadmap for what initiatives are good and when. Maybe it’s natural for your organization to start out with an employee ideation tool or maybe you should start planning your next innovation lab. Nonetheless, the important thing is that you take one step at a time. Don’t expect wonders in just a few days – changes like this take time.

Just to recap

  1. Settle on a strategy
  2. Cultivate creative skills
  3. Set-up appropriate structures of innovation
  4. Get serious about ideas
  5. Fail fast
  6. Consider an innovation lab
  7. Use your common sense

In the next blog post we’ll cover some companies that nailed turning the culture around and from that managed to create an innovative culture. So stay tuned

In the meantime, why not check out our blog post on how to conquer the idea management platform?

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