Five Behaviours to Drive Innovation in the Workplace

McRae Williams

Innovation is essential to enable your organisation to deliver on your strategy and meet, or exceed, your financial goals. But it can be hard to define innovation, and to assess an individual’s capability and preferences to be innovative.  

Our recently launched The Taylor Assessment was designed to help companies hire talent, develop teams, and grow leaders based on culture contribution. The tool is based on Walking the Talk’s six culture archetypes (built up over 30 plus years of experience in this field) – one of which is Innovation.  

There are five ‘anchor behaviours’ attached to each archetype, and in this article, we’re going to look at those under Innovation. We will look at what they are, why they’re important, and how you can start identifying them to build a culture of innovation in your organisation.  

1. Agility  

What is it?  

 Agility is the degree to which someone is motivated and capable of pivoting quickly in response to situations, feedback, the latest information etc. Some people like moving fast and adjusting as they go, while others prefer to take their time and go slower. Agile people are alert to outside forces (customer behaviour etc), will face brutal realities head on, and course correct fast if needed. When you’re trying to build a culture of innovation, you need people who prioritise agility. 

Why is agility important for innovation? 

When we look at cultures that are strong on innovation, they have a focus on improvement, learning, experimenting, challenging the status quo, taking risks – and agility covers all of those. To be able to pull all those things off, you have to be able to accept that your idea may not be the best one right now, and be willing to pivot quickly to a different one. This enables you to perceive and respond rapidly to external changes, so you can stay ahead of your competitors. If you look at companies that have disrupted industries and continue to evolve, for example Uber and Netflix, they have all had agility at their core.  

How to identify agile behaviours

 Those with a propensity towards workplace agility will be effective at changing their thinking to fit new circumstances, will regularly shift their focus to new priorities, and eschew best practices in favour of whatever the situation demands.  

 2. Experimentation  

 What is it? 

 Experimentation is about how motivated a person is by trying new activities and being an early adopter. These people actively think outside the box, make lateral moves, and don’t necessarily conform to logical approaches. They want to challenge the status quo, are willing to take risks, and makes mistakes, because they understand that is how you get breakthroughs.  

Why is experimentation important for innovation? 

 You can’t be innovative unless you’re prepared to experiment and take risks, because that’s how you discover or create something new. So, if you want a culture of innovation, you must be experimenting regularly – otherwise you’re not innovating. The key is to figure out where, how, and when to experiment, so you don’t blow up your core business.  

For example, we recently worked with a client who wanted to build an innovation culture, and helped its Finance team (traditionally risk averse) to take some calculated experiments. While they failed with a few, others were successful and have since been rolled out across the organisation with huge impacts on efficiency, productivity, wellbeing, and, ultimately, culture.  

How to identify experimentation behaviours

 People with this trait will encourage new ideas, they will look to find places where they can experiment and where it’s ok to make mistakes, and will actively seek to be early adopters. You may hear them say phrases like ‘I come to work to blow stuff up’ because that’s their mentality, and you need that when you’re trying to build your innovation competency.  

 3. Learning  

What is it?  

 This covers the extent to which someone is motivated to improve or upskill themselves. It involves reflecting on your mistakes, admitting them, and learning from them, so there is an element of humility to it. When learning from your mistakes, it’s less about the results themselves and more about how you got to them, and what needs to be different next time to give you a better chance of success.  

You’ve got to have the mindset that even when you think you’re at your best, you know you’re still nowhere near your best. Look at sports professionals such as Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan et al – they all had that hunger to practice repeatedly, watch films of themselves to identify improvements; all in service of pushing the boundaries of their potential. 

Why is learning important for innovation?  

Learners understand and appreciate that sometimes things don’t work out. This is especially true when you’re innovating, because by nature you’re going to be making mistakes. The learners are the ones hunting for them, using them, and seeking the marginal gains that underpin innovation.  

There is also a vulnerability to learning. By being open to making and sharing mistakes, leaders increase psychological safety and improve the chances of blind spots being identified and addressed. It’s a paradox, but the highest-performing teams make the most mistakes, because they have the psychological safety to admit and learn from them, so they are quickly and endlessly improving. 

How to identify learning behaviours

Learners are constantly looking to build their knowledge, skills, and expertise. They learn from every interaction, and are motivated by a desire to grow, understand, and improve. You might hear these people say, ‘There’s something I don’t know here,’ or ‘I can get better at that.’ They come to every situation with an ‘empty cup’ and are there to learn. 

4. Courage  

What is it?   

Courage equals fear plus action. When you’re being courageous you should feel a bodily sensation of (mild) anxiety and adrenaline. Courageous people are never happy with the status quo, and have a restlessness to make situations better.  

You’re looking for the degree to which someone is motivated to implement change. In the context of innovation, it’s about having the courage to question current thinking or ways of working in order to improve. Courage becomes even more important in established organisations that need to do things differently. It is here where the antibodies can resist people who are different and challenging most strongly. But if you want innovation, they (and your company) need to have the courage of your convictions.  

Why is courage important for innovation?

By its nature, in a culture of innovation you are trying new things. As humans, we don’t like change, so at an organisational level it’s impossible to drive innovation without people who are courageous. There are many examples of corporations who resisted courageous people (sometimes even whole departments), and as a result they haven’t been able to innovate and disrupt at the pace they wanted.  

How to identify courageous behaviours

These people are motivated by taking on the next big challenge. They are dissatisfied with the status quo, and are only happy when they’re succeeding outside their comfort zone. A lack of fear, ability to bring people along with them, and sticking to their guns are also markers. For organisations looking to usher in a culture of innovation, this is about having the courage to stick to your mission when it gets tough, because whenever you’re bringing out new ideas, products, services etc, the market might well be choppy, but they will only succeed if you have the courage to see them through.  

5. Continuous Improvement 

What is it?  

This is a continual pursuit of excellence and desire to be the best. As opposed to experimentation, it is more logical, steady, and planned. It’s about relentlessly inching towards a goal, step by step.   

When you’re pushing your company to take new directions or approaches, you need people who are convinced that there are different ways to do things. These people believe that no matter what you’re doing today, there’s potentially a better way to do it. 

So, you’re looking at the extent to which a person seeks ways to improve whatever they encounter. They are constantly running incremental experiments (but not necessarily trying new things or challenging the status quo) to keep moving forward. Proactively looking to better anything they come into contact with, they therefore welcome and seek out feedback.  

Why is continuous improvement needed for innovation?

Much innovation comes from incremental improvements rather than big bangs. Innovative companies are always looking at what they can tweak and enhance about their products and/or services, no matter how minor, to keep their customers satisfied. Also, those small improvements across your organisation, combined with the learnings you get from them, may well lead to bigger innovation leaps in your business.  

How to identify continuous improvement behaviours 

Here you would be seeing people believing that good is the enemy of great, they would be improving themselves and your organisation bit by bit every day, and exploring tasks from different angles to see how they could be done better. To do so, they would be curious, ask lots of questions, and be prioritising quality over quantity.  

How to find examples of workplace innovation behaviours 

If you’re looking to drive innovation in your workplace, you don’t need every person to display all these behaviours. However, you certainly need enough of your people exhibiting at least a few of these behaviours on a consistent basis to drive innovation and achieve breakthrough levels of performance.  


Download Taylor Assessment Brochure


Subscribe for blog updates

Implementing and Managing your Culture Plan

Implementing and Managing your Culture Plan

To turn culture aspiration into reality you need to actively manage your culture, just as you do your other business operations. In this
How to Create a Culture of Innovation

How to Create a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is a much overused and misused term in business. Fundamentally, the end game of innovation is to provide new products, services,
Building a Culture Plan

Building a Culture Plan

Organisational culture can sometimes seem a nebulous concept. While you can clearly feel culture and its impacts, defining what needs to