One of the buzzwords that keep coming back in my discussions with clients and colleagues is innovation. Every organisation wants to be innovative. But what is it we’re talking about, and how do you embed a culture of innovation in your business?
Most executives agree that innovation is critical for their business and their growth strategy. However, research by the Centre for Creative Leadership shows that although 94% of the 500 executives surveyed said that innovation is very important for their organisation, only 14% said that their organisation was effective at it. Another piece of research by McKinsey show that having the right culture to foster and support innovation is mentioned by 57% of respondents as the number one factor stopping innovation.
At the core of culture are patterns of behaviour, which can be observed across the organisation. Those patterns do not exist in a vacuum. They are underpinned by values and beliefs. Therefore, to shift the culture, not only do you need to identify the required behaviours for success, but also identify the beliefs that need to drive them. If the current belief system is not aligned with what you need, work must be done to focus on shifting beliefs. The iceberg model, familiar to many of you, I am sure, illustrates my point.
So, what is the iceberg of a culture of innovation? Here are some of the elements that should be present:
- Mistakes are opportunities for learning
- Ideas are challenged
- People speak their mind
- Experimenting encouraged
- I am not always right
- There is always a better way
- If it isn’t broken, break it anyway
- Not knowing is a sign of strength, not a weakness
- Pursuit of excellence
The key mindset that needs to exist in the organisation for a culture of innovation is curiosity. When I first meet leaders, I pay attention to whether they are asking questions or not. If they do, innovation can exist. If they don’t, it is unlikely to exist unless some deep change takes place. The other piece often missing for innovation is the fact that not knowing something is often seen as a weakness, not a strength. This can happen in many organisations, and it kills innovation before it has time to even get started.
If you think innovation is right for your business and want to develop the appropriate culture, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is innovation the culture we need to be successful? Or is it customer focus in a collaborative environment, or empowering our people to make the right decisions to add value to our customers?
- What kind of innovation? There is a continuum from continuous improvement to big-bang-type innovation. Where do you see yourself on the continuum? If you continuously improve a candle, you will still have a candle. Is it a light bulb that you need?
- What is the current state of your culture of innovation? Weak or strong? What patterns of behaviour are supporting or hindering you?
- Is your Top Team role modelling innovation? What symbols are they sending and are those symbols aligned with a culture of innovation?
- Have you equipped your leaders with the skills and tools to nurture innovation?
By following a small number of clear steps you can start shifting towards the culture you want. Be very clear about the business impact you are looking for, and communicate this to everyone. Work on existing beliefs and reinforce the right behaviours. And don’t forget to ask questions!
What levers have you used to foster a culture of innovation in your organisation? I’d love to hear from you.