It’s been said that life comes down to a few moments; those points in time when circumstances and preparation come together to create a unique opportunity with the potential to positively alter our life’s and futures forever. Whether you realize it or not, one of these moments is before you right now, and you have a decision to make. The question is, will you let it slip by like you have before, or do you have the “balls” to seize it this time, and change things for ever?
Specifically, organizations are looking for people just like you. People who are passionate about personal development, are prepared to take a few risks, and are committed to constant innovation and change. How much experience you have or where you are on the organization’s hierarchy is irrelevant. What is important, is your open, progressive mind-set, that puts you in a unique position to help contribute to the kind of culture that organizations desperately need; cultures of innovation.
Seizing this opportunity is simple. First you’ll need to understand what a culture of innovation involves and why it is so important, which is what the first part of this article is all about. With this base understanding, I then outline the specific strategies and tactics that you can employ to become an agent of change, and a force for innovation, regardless of your title or experience.
If you’re really serious about making this transformation, I also encourage you to read my “Authentic Leaders’ Workbook” which you can get for free by subscribing to my site. The workbook will give you additional insights into how to become a true innovator.
Why This Culture So Important
So how important is establishing a culture of innovation? Based on the following quote from Lou Gerstner, the former CEO of IBM, from his book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance”, it’s very important.
I came to see in my time with IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than a collective capacity of its people to create value. Lou Gerstner
I love this quote because it clearly captures the reality of business today, which is that culture isn’t just another strategy or tactic – it is “the” strategy; it is the difference maker, and for this reason, people who understand this and are able to make it happen, have a real advantage.
Ideally, a culture of innovation is most effective when its driven from the top down and reinforced through consistent and clear communication and supported by an organizational structure that motivates and encourages people to think differently.
You will note that I used the word “ideally” driven from the top down. I say this because it’s been proven that this process is much more effective, and more likely to stick, if the CEO or equivalent is the one driving it. It works best in this situation, because it leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind across the entire organization, that innovation is a priority, and people should be prepared to expect the unexpected.
If you’re a senior manager looking to implement this culture, you’ll find the suggested tactics that follow much easier to implement because you’re in a position to force change. For the rest of you, the strategy is pretty much the same, but instead of creating this culture from the top down, you’re going to create it from the bottom up, by influencing change. You’re going to do this by creating “pockets of innovation” in the areas you have some control over, no matter how small they are. While this approach is more difficult, it’s certainly better than no innovation at all.
What follows below are six tactics that you can use to help create a culture of innovation across your organization, or within any part of it.
1. Make innovation a mission
Ideally, innovation should be part of every organizations mission. A great mission statement speaks to why a company or organization exists and it guides every decision made, and every strategy pursued. If innovation isn’t in the mission statement, then its not a priority.
The following are two examples of mission statements that clearly prioritize innovation:
“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” Nike. By the way Nike believes that if you have a body, you are an athlete.
Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Patagonia
If innovation isn’t part of your company’s mission and you’re in a position to influence it – get it changed. If not, create a mission statement specific to your department, your group, or at a minimum, your job. Either way, the statement should speak to “why” you’re doing what you do, and how you’re going to do it. It should be short and sweet and inspiring. You can have some fun with this by making it a group effort, assuming you have a group.
2. Tell people about the mission
Even a powerful, inspiring mission statement is useless if people don’t know about it. Too often companies create missions that never see the light of day, and as a result, most employees have no idea what it is.
In the ideal situation, it should be the CEO or equivalent that is out there selling and promoting the organization’s mission, with passion and energy at every opportunity available. The mission should be reviewed at every staff meeting, every strategy meeting and every presentation. Ideally the CEO needs to make it personal by letting everyone know that it’s the mission that makes him or her jump out of bed in the morning; it’s the mission that’s behind every decision they make; it’s the mission that drives them.
If you’re not the CEO, it’s still your responsibility to get out there and sell and promote the mission for your “pocket of innovation”. It may be as simple as just telling as many people as possible across the company that you have a mission or, it might be more formal. Don’t be shy.
One of the best ways to imbed a mission across an entire organization is to have it printed on a simple, small card, with the expectation that each and every employee will put it up in their work space so that it’s visible for everyone to see. Imagine for a moment that your department or group has its own mission statement, and this statement is posted in everyone’s workspace in the same manner. Do you think it will get noticed? Do you think it sends the message you want? Imagine the impact it will have on both your team and others in the company? It would certainly start a conversation, and perhaps a small revolution.
3. Give people time to innovate
To make it really clear that innovation is a priority for your company or group, and isn’t something you do after everything else is done, give yourself and your people innovation time. Google for example is known for giving its employees one day a week to follow their work and personal passions, and the 3M Corp has for decades allotted 15% of their employee’s work week, as innovation time. You may not need this much time at first, but even 1-2 hours a week would be a good start. By providing this time, you’re making it crystal clear to your team, that innovation and the generation of new ideas is part of their job. In this way they can no longer complain that they don’t have time or they didn’t know what was expected from them.
4. Designate a champion
Organizations committed to innovation recognize that it’s all about the management of ideas.
There’s really no point in giving you employee’s time to generate new ideas if there isn’t a process for accumulating and evaluating them; a process that ensures every idea, no matter how crazy or insane, isn’t lost in some bureaucratic quagmire, but rather is given a chance to see the light of day and honestly assessed. The best way to ensure this happens is to appoint a Champion who through all ideas flow; a person who reports directly to the CEO.
This champion is particularly important if your organization has a lot of middle managers, for it is this level that is most often responsible for stifling or blocking innovation, because middle-managers tend to be more invested in maintaining the status quo than any other group. Ideally, middle managers should be the gateway between junior employees and leaders of an organization. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, especially if the new ideas aren’t theirs. This is why all new ideas should be funneled directly through the champion. In this way, every idea, no matter where it comes from, has the opportunity to get to the top.
If there is no champion, then you need to become that person, not just for your group or team, but if possible, for the entire office. Go ahead, appoint yourself! It’s not like you’re taking the job from anyone else.
5. Encourage failure
It is very clear to everyone in an effective, well run culture of innovation, that failure is part of the innovation process, and is to be expected. No one should fear failure; in fact, it should be embraced and celebrated. As mentioned above, the innovation process involves the management of ideas- all ideas.
One of the best ways to remove the fear of individual failure is to encourage teamwork. Most
people have no problem failing as part of a team, plus, some of the best ideas are the result of
6. Celebrate successes and near successes (failures)
Whenever possible, whether in staff meetings, retreats, or any holiday celebrations, some time should be set aside for the presentations of new innovative ideas that have been generated within the organization. To keep everyone motivated and inspired, these opportunities should be used to celebrate both the successful ideas and the near successes; the ones that almost made it despite a great effort.
This public celebration of the innovation process firmly imbeds in everyone’s mind that innovation is part of their job, and it also serves to create a competitive environment, which is good. Competition is at the heart of all innovation.
I started this post off by talking about recognizing opportunities and seizing those moments that you have prepared all your life for. For those of you with aspirations of being a real difference maker, and taking you career to the highest possible level, this moment is right in front of you now. To seize this moment you need to step-up and embrace it.
This moment has been created by an economy and business environment that is hyper-competitive and changing daily. As a result, companies and organizations of all types have recognized that their survival depends on innovating, and innovating quickly. To make this happen, creating cultures of innovation has become their top priority. Unfortunately, most attempts at this fail because they simply don’t understand how to create these cultures. As you now know, it’s about far more than brightly coloured work spaces, ping pong and fuse ball tables, and free lunches.
It’s about effective leadership, clear communication, and creating a mindset in everyone that
innovation isn’t something you do after all you other work is done. It’s something you do along with your other work- it is a priority and an expectation.
On the topic of leadership, once again I encourage you to read my “Authentic Leaders’ Workbook” to find out more about the leadership style that is driving most cultures of innovation.