Keys to an Innovative Culture
In a previous blog post I discussed the 10 elements of an innovative culture. In that post, I described the ideal qualities of an innovative culture… one that engages its employees and creates experiences for its customers that not only deepen relationships but also frame those relationships as a place of co-creation and service design. In this post I’ll look at an innovative culture from a different perspective. In this post I’ll attempt to provide insight into how to shift your culture towards an innovative one.
On one hand, culture is an amorphous, esoteric intangible concept and, on the other hand it’s a real entity that if not managed properly can make a workplace disastrous. A toxic culture has a ripple effect on the organization; manifesting in retention, growth opportunities and productivity. At the center of it all are employees; who endure or embellish the culture. The members of the organization that carry out the values, ideals, and methods of the corporate society are integral. They can amplify or diminish the qualities of the culture without much coercing, just depending on whether the individual wants to fit in or stand out. So, while the individual’s personality, experiences, and preferences play a role in how the organization’s culture is carried out, it’s not the genesis of the culture … what then is the genesis of a corporate culture? In my experience, the corporate culture is originated, defined and shaped by the leaders of the organization.
Here’s a video of Simon Sinek talking about the concept of the ‘Circle of Safety’ which describes how leaders inspire cooperation, trust, and change within the organization, while suggesting it’s dangerous outside the circle. Conversely, if this circle encourages distrust, fear of failure, and a lack of collaboration then the members of the corporate culture will amplify these qualities or push talented people, whose values contradict these qualities, out of the organization. Leaders are entrusted with the responsibility of creating a culture that is not only attractive to employees but that will promote and sustain innovation.
Without the latter, the company is playing the finite game instead of the infinite game, which will have a sad and deleterious end. Without innovation, the company will be unable to perform at the level necessary to compete within its respective market. Not to discount the need to attract and retain talented innovators, but if the leaders create the culture that inspires bold thinking, encourages uncertainty, and has the frameworks to nurture innovation, great people will come.
Polding (2016) described leaders of innovative cultures as life learners and continuously acquiring new knowledge to embrace an ever-evolving world that also embraces the differences of others. Further, leaders of innovative cultures must communicate the importance of innovative thinking; allowing employees space to collaborate and time to think innovatively; and trust employees to perform and solve problems in the most suitable way (Whittinghill, Berkowitz, & Farrington, 2015). Leaders of innovative cultures understand that employees amplify or diminish the culture and if they take on the responsibility to develop employees into “accomplished” people through their work, then the opportunity to enter mutually beneficial relationships for leader and employee unfolds (Leovaridis & Popescu, 2015).
While leaders hold a major load of the responsibility for developing an innovative culture, employees must own their part in the innovative intent. To do so employees can ask questions today, work through answers that will meet future needs and fully exhaust those answers by capturing and leveraging transferable knowledge through collaboration and team work.
Ultimately, there are two main factors that energize employees toward innovation according to (Euchner, 2016); a far-reaching problem and the opportunity to develop something that has no guarantee of working. While leaders can create the “executive air cover”, employees as leaders of self, can actively seek out problems and initiate being part of the solution where the space and opportunity have not been defined as yet.