Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Can you Impose a Culture of Innovation

 Culture is a collective mindset, attitude, habit and brand!

Innovation is the light every forward-looking organization is pursuing now, but how to cultivate the culture of innovation is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today, can you impose a culture of innovation, or shall you build, cultivate, or foster it, and how? What are key elements in fostering culture of innovation?

Culture is an ongoing process and continuous journey. Culture is a collective mindset, attitude, habit and brand, you can not impose your own thought or habit to someone else instantly, however, you could make an influence, to inspire and cultivate an innovative culture. The word "build" implies a project with a beginning/middle/end. Every culture must be passed down to new generations, and reinforced to existing ones. Words like "cultivate" or "foster" work much better than "build", because "build" implies project, management often think they can manipulate the project, cultivating culture is a process which is ongoing, and a continuous journey. You may also influence the culture through the rapid learning which stands on its own as a separate point of influence. Especially where there's reluctance in an organization, trumpeting learning as an internal process, is a powerful way to build proof and followers.

Tie the innovations and the innovative culture to the organization's strategy. This ensures that innovations will be supported by management and by all stakeholders. Lacking a positive strategic intent towards innovation in large mature organizations can become an issue; well define innovation as a key ingredient in business strategy, and the three managerial tools for creating a culture of innovation are policies, programs, and structures. Get these steps right, and you will be a world-class innovator with a strong culture of innovation. Get any one of them wrong, and your results will be sub-optimal. There exists evidence that companies who have successfully tied innovation to their strategy have actually got much better ROI the ones who did not.

Values are a no-brainer. Innovation is valued or it's not. If not, any talented innovators probably had a short tenure with the company and went to the other pastures. This is pretty much a self-selection process. No amount of HR speaks or innovation vernacular will move the needle. When innovation is valued, the hiring and talent acquisition process reflect it and there is usually a history to point to when recruiting, and the innovation culture will reveal itself to the candidates. Since innovation is typically won by the most persistent and passionately motivated, the typical descriptors for success need to be morphed to success descriptions that acknowledge what is learned (what doesn't work) and is further enhanced by well-defined product or project performance and design parameters that create the target for what success looks like.

Innovation leadership and talent: Culture change is pushing the really big boulder up a hill. Cultures have inertia. Inertia is so much easier to sustain than to alter the course of the already moving mass. Even within progressive, "innovation-friendly" organizations, amazing ideas can diminish on the vine when the passionate Innovator reaches "the point of approval" - their manager, supervisor.... If the innovation process leading up to this point is not well-developed, these managers will lack sufficient history and emotional bond to the innovation to swiftly approve it or to avoid trenched conflict as the discussion escalates with the passionate Innovator. The spirit comes from the top, the innovation leadership can set the right tone to foster and encourage an innovation culture.

The metrics and reward system. The measurement of innovations must be in place to support funding of innovation work, create positive environment and culture for innovation. After you get the management tools right and build a culture of innovation, you can benchmark your progress on the way to sustain the world class culture on these three parameters:
1) The company's definition of innovation is known and understood throughout
2) The company dedicates sufficient human and financial resources to its innovation programs and structures
3) The company's innovators use the latest and best innovation tools and methods

Practically you can not impose a culture of innovation, but definitely, you can influence and putting the right innovation elements into your strategy and execution. Above are good foundational elements. Further, these elements should be tailored for each organization. There is no one-size-fits-all set of policies, programs and structures as well, organizations have to keep exploring, experimenting and adjusting for fostering the culture of innovation. 


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