Five Practical Steps For Fostering A Culture Of Innovation31 May, 2023 / Articles
Recommended article from Forbes
Innovation isn’t easy. By their nature, companies are designed to focus on the “here and now” of delivering their product or service effectively and keeping their customers satisfied. Whether that means making computers, managing construction projects or providing legal services, just maintaining the status quo without stumbling is a full-time pursuit.
How can companies balance that reality with the ever-present need to evolve, adapt, grow and look around the corner for what’s next?
There are, no doubt, innovations that arise from a sudden flash of genius or a happy accident. However, these examples are the exception rather than the rule. In reality, the organizations that consistently innovate to the benefit of their people, their customers and society at large are able to do so because of a very intentional, methodical and coordinated commitment to building a bona fide “culture of innovation”—a culture where innovation can thrive.
How do leaders create this kind of environment? Here are five practical tips for fostering a culture of innovation in your organization:
Clearly define what innovation means. Innovating sure sounds great, but do your employees even know what it means or how innovation might apply to them? Do they know what innovation looks like? Use the power of storytelling and real-life examples. (“Our legal process used to take eight days, and now it takes three. Here’s what we did, and here’s how it helped us save $500,000 annually.”) People will forget points in time and numbers. They will remember stories.
Lead by example. Leaders show their team what’s important by what they emphasize, measure and reward. What happens when a new idea fails? Do you pound your fist on the table? Don’t make your people afraid to fail. Similarly, how do you reward innovation? In my organization, our metrics measure the number of new ideas that we take to the business, how many were accepted, and how many of them became a part of our offering. These successful innovations must be recognized and rewarded, but so should the ideas that were ultimately not implemented. The best leaders also champion the concept of “constructive discontent.” This is the opposite of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is “if it ain’t broke, improve it.” The best companies are always striving to be better.
Develop relationships that build trust. Leaders who develop authentic relationships that are built on empathy, respect and caring can create a safe place for team members to raise their hands and challenge the status quo. Leaders also need the intellectual bravery to be direct in asking the kinds of tough questions that will generate “critical conversations.” Some of the best innovations I’ve seen have come about because a leader has had the courage (and self-confidence) to be vulnerable and say: “You’re the subject-matter expert. You know more about this than me. What am I missing? What would you change if you had a magic wand?” By the same token, if you ask those questions and don’t do anything about it, you’ve made things worse. If a leader ultimately determines that a certain idea shouldn’t be implemented, they also need to have the courage to be transparent and explain why.
Put your money where your mouth is. Set aside funding—and your team’s time—for innovation. Using the “70-20-10 model” is one effective approach. With this, 70% of funding is earmarked for running the business (the blocking and tackling) and chasing the ROI that you’re already aware of. Another 20% is focused on automation (“How can we do the things we do faster, less expensive and better?”). The remaining 10% should be focused on innovation. If you don’t set the time and money aside in this way, all you’ll do is run your business with your head down without looking up and looking forward.
“Diversity” means diverse perspectives and, in turn, diverse ideas. If your team members all share the same lived experiences, they’re likely to approach challenges and problem-solving with the same point of view. Teams that bring together people with a variety of different backgrounds and cultures are far more likely to identify differentiated, innovative and outside-of-the-box solutions.
Our success in building a culture of innovation has to be focused on never losing sight of being intentional, methodical and coordinated in our commitment to improvement. These practical steps I shared above can get your organization maturing into a “let’s improve it” mindset. Nurturing this mindset can then help ensure that innovation thrives and that employees have the confidence to ask tough questions and contribute to critical conversations—which will fuel your innovation culture.