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Like every other part of a successful business, organizational culture has to be continually managed, refreshed, and refocused. Organizations that manage culture the best do so deliberately – deciding what type of culture they want to encourage and developing a plan to achieve it.
Creating a culture that encourages innovation can be tricky because just like encouraging autonomy, motivation and inspiration, there are many pieces to the innovation puzzle, and they come together differently for every organization.
It might sound redundant, but how one goes about creating a culture that supports innovation should, by nature, be unique. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula. Having said that, one thing that is true for everyone is that it starts with the mindset that the unexpected is in fact, expected.
In an environment where creativity is stifled, subtle messages like these may be unspoken rules:
“Our organization does not waste time on small or silly ideas.”
“I’m paid to do such-and-such, no more and no less.”
“I’m not going to be the one to suggest that because if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be blamed.”
“This is the way things have always been done. It’s worked for years and I’m not going to be the one to try and change it.”
Compounding the problem is that leaders and managers tend to be, out of necessity, focused more on managing processes, measurement and implementation rather than fostering imagination, creativity and empathy.
But, culture is not one of those unimportant matters to be dealt with only when the real business of running day-to-day operations is done. Culture directly supports – or detracts from – you business goals. Disregarding it, or hoping it will take care of itself, can result in individuals separating themselves into silos, afraid to step out on a limb with any new ideas. This can make it very difficult to survive in an ever-changing marketplace.
If we take a closer look at the companies that can truly be called innovative, we’ll notice certain patterns and ways of thinking that can be adapted to any organization. In fact, according to this year’s Forbes list of most innovative companies, there are 4 steps leaders must take if they want to encourage more innovative thinking. Here’s a brief paraphrase:
- Savor Surprises. Encourage questioning and make sure employees know that you value observation, collaboration and experimenting.
- Discover the problems that are worth solving. Rather than starting with internal assumptions, encourage people to take the time to really understand what the member’s needs, wants and problems really are.
- Encourage multiple points of view. Rather than starting with one idea and moving ahead full-steam, ask different groups to come up with several prototypes. This allows unique perceptions, ideas and solutions to be aired that might otherwise go unnoticed.
- Focus on the “how” after answering the “what” and “Why”. Validate pricing strategy, the member acquisition strategy, and the cost structure strategy as step #4, rather than step #1. This makes innovation a priority rather than an afterthought.
In addition to these insights, leaders can encourage a culture of innovation by doing their best to stay open to unconventional ideas and really listening to what their people are trying to say. In particular, employees who interact face-to-face with members often have tremendous insights and ideas that are sometimes overlooked.After all, great ideas don’t always come from experts.
Finally, if you want to be an organization that embraces innovation, you also have to be the type of place that embraces failure. A brief look at history tells us that some of our greatest innovations, penicillin springs to mind, were sometimes achieved by accident.
An innovative culture is about cultivating a mindset that has learned to see the world in new and different ways. Like innovation itself, the culture of any organization requires constant adjustment. It requires leaders to be thoughtful about whether the environment itself is allowing their people’s best ideas to come out.