According to the Boston Consulting Group, innovation is the number one priority for 72% of companies, and Earnest and Young predict that 50% of a company’s revenue in 5 years will come from sources that currently don’t exist. With this in mind, businesses need innovative solutions to meet the expected demand, as well as ensuring a positive customer experience.
But innovation can be complicated, and many companies hope it will “just happen” if they have the right people. This isn’t the case, but there is a growing field of research showing which factors are particularly important when a company wants to innovate.
Creating an innovative culture isn’t about getting beanbags and pot plants. First and foremost, it’s about understanding what an innovative culture actually is. There has been a lot of research in this area, much of which has concluded that innovation culture has many different elements to it and that the companies encouraging these elements are more likely to deliver innovation.
What is an innovation culture?
- An innovative culture is taking risks
Fear of the unknown is one of the main reasons why companies don’t engage in innovation wholeheartedly. It is not possible to create something new without an element of the unknown and uncertainty, and therefore risk. Employees need to understand that their organisation accepts this inherent risk, and the organisation may find it more manageable to consider the different types of risks that the company has, and which are more easily averted than others.
- An innovative culture is saying thank you
Does your manager recognise when you engage in innovation or have a new idea? Do they reward you? Part of creating a culture of innovation is giving people positive feedback when they behave in the desired way. Managers who say “we haven’t got time to look at new ways of doing things” are killing innovation.
- An innovative culture is building trusting teams
Does your team trust each other? Innovation starts with an idea (or many ideas), and usually needs other people to refine and develop it. This is where the team’s culture is crucial, and whether its members feel comfortable sharing ideas with each other.
- An innovative culture is giving people control
Generally speaking, people are happier when they have a degree of control over the work they do and how they do it. Employees with more control over their work are more innovative, more satisfied and perform better. Try to give freedom where you can: why not let employees work from 10-6 if it suits them better?
- An innovative culture is having clear goals
Individuals and teams are more likely to think differently if they know what they are working towards. This doesn’t mean giving step by step instructions, but making sure people know what they are working towards and then letting them get on with it (see number 4).
- An innovative culture is giving resources
It sounds obvious, but people need resources to innovate. This doesn’t necessarily mean lots of money though – look at the rise of frugal innovation. At the other end of the spectrum, organisations such as 3M are famous for giving their employees 15% of their time to work on personal projects. Giving employees time (and/or money) to engage in innovation builds a culture that tells people innovation supported.
- An innovative culture is having formal processes
Would you like to improve your business’ performance or customer’s experience? Assuming the answer is yes, do you know where to go when you have an idea? And where does it go after that? Innovation benefits from some structure. As counter intuitive as that might sound, it makes sense when you consider that it can be a long, complex process involving many people. However, be mindful of not constraining thinking when ideas are being generated.
- An innovative culture is collaborating across teams
Collaborating across teams leads to greater diversity, which leads to more varied and potentially better ideas. Often you don’t have to be an expert in a something to think of how it could be done better or differently – you’re less constrained by what might be practical or feasible, and with some development those impractical ideas can become entirely possible. Can you get two teams to collaborate for an idea generation session?
- An innovative culture is bringing in external experts
As customer expectations change and technology gets more complex, it is likely that a company will need to engage with a number of different experts when developing a new product or service. You might not have these experts in-house, and why should you? Bring them in when you need to: engage in open innovation and avoid the ‘not invented here’ mentality. Look at your customers, suppliers and other organisations as potential collaborators.
- An innovative culture is knowing people across the company
Collaboration is a spectrum and it can be difficult to engage in projects with a diverse set of collaborators from within and outside an organisation. Start small. Hold informal sessions for people from different teams to talk to one another; research has shown that simply knowing people from different parts of an organisation leads to more creativity and innovation. Diversity of personalities, skills and abilities are key to creating a culture of innovation.