Companies invest in innovation to serve internal and external goals. Often new ideas surface, yet unfortunately, so do roadblocks which prevent them from being implemented. These roadblocks are often rooted in the company’s culture, as well as in the innovation process itself.
Breaking the innovation process down into specific manageable steps, while also deconstructing culture, affords the opportunity to best marry the intricate pieces. Accomplishing this pinpoints which cultural levers to employ in order to best drive innovation along its process continuum.
Culture and Innovation, Deconstructed
Culture is defined as a shared set of values, beliefs, and behaviors that characterize a company and guide its practices. Culture is a spectrum of preferably intentional—but oftentimes unintentional— forces, and acts as a filter through which employees experience their work, their leader, and each other. Culture can be assessed based on these dimensions, and these dimensions can be broken into further areas such as management credibility, respect, and fairness, a sense of pride in one’s work, and camaraderie with fellow employees. Within these elements lie the levers for driving innovation.
Innovation is doing things in more effective ways to achieve positive results. Innovation can be intended for purposes external to the company, such as the development of new products or services, or internal purposes, such as company processes, policies, and technologies. Innovation can be broken down into phases such as opportunity identification, solution design and development, piloting, and full application. These phases can be further delineated as well.
Connecting Organizational Culture with the Innovation Process
During our “Connecting Organizational Culture with the Innovation Process” session at the 2015 Great Place To Work® Conference, the audience had a chance to deconstruct both the culture and innovation components to see which of each best mapped together.
Very surprisingly, the cultural element of being able to take risk and make mistakes without repercussions was not the main driver of innovation. On the contrary, cultural elements such as “management genuinely seeks and responds to suggestions and ideas” and “management involves people in decisions that affect their jobs or work environment” were the stand outs.
Since the conference, I had some time to process the session and the elements which surfaced became logical. Culture and culture change are hierarchical and, better said, chronological—similar to Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. Certain concepts need to be in place prior to others. For example, most would argue leadership needs to be approachable and easy to speak with, prior to an employee having the feeling that they can ask questions and get straight answers. Likewise, managers need to show they involve employees in decisions and act on those suggestions prior to employees feeling comfortable taking risks.
In sum, while culture and innovation are complex, multifaceted, and somewhat intangible, like most subjects, when broken into digestible essentials they become easier to work with, providing focus and clarity. Using this approach sheds light on which programs, policies, procedures, behaviors, and skills a company should be investing in to drive innovation.