It would be nice if innovation culture happened naturally in your business. Everything would run smoothly, new ideas would be encouraged, and people would work together to communicate clearly, positively, and respectfully. Unfortunately, it rarely happens that easily. Building a culture of innovation within your workplace is a deliberate process that requires your ongoing attention and effort.
Start by Knowing Your Company
This doesn't just mean knowing and understanding the company. It also means understanding your employees, their personalities, and their strengths and weaknesses. What will be their reaction to the culture that you're attempting to build? How will existing employees respond to the concepts you're attempting to introduce? Will cultural changes affect the way they perform their job duties? How?
It can also be helpful to understand your existing processes. While processes that don't work can be wiped away entirely, it can often be more helpful to build on existing processes. This will allow you to shift the culture of your business.
A deep understanding of the existing company culture will help you better understand the changes that need to be made in order to cultivate the innovation culture you desire. Ask yourself:
- How do employees currently communicate with one another throughout the company? Is there an open atmosphere of communication, or do employees typically keep their ideas and thoughts to themselves?
- What is the price of failure in your company? Can you afford to implement new concepts and ideas quickly, break a few eggs in order to make your omelet, and even risk offending a few clients, or do you need a more cautious approach?
- What approaches to innovation have the potential to create disruption, rather than positive creativity and innovation, within your company?
As your understanding of your company's existing structure improves, you'll get a better idea of what changes need to be made to successfully encourage innovative thinking from every employee in the building.
Change Your Outlook
The best examples of innovative culture don't come from companies that implement a temporary program hoping to create permanent change. Successful implementation of innovation culture involves changing the outlook of the entire business. When your goal is innovation, you have to prioritize four things: your people, their ideas, the alignment of the company, and the way your people communicate. This means shifting the entire focus of the business to properly account for your new goals.
- Create opportunities for collaboration across departments, groups, and levels of the organization. Look for chances to collaborate with individuals outside the organization itself. When the goal is innovation, shared credit for a fantastic concept is well worth the changes that will arise from it.
- Accept failure. When possible, look for ways to embrace it. The best ideas often arise out of past failures. Yes, failure can be costly. Taking a chance on any idea holds a certain risk, and there's always the chance that things won't go as planned. Failure also brings with it a number of rewards: a deeper understanding of the problem, a better look at the potential solution, and one thing that you definitively know won't work. Embrace it within your organization to help encourage innovation.
- Keep an open mind. Be willing to look at things from unique and even seemingly impossible angles. Some of the most “impossible” ideas are the ones that will have the biggest payoff in the end.
Adapting to a culture of innovation doesn't happen overnight. Change the outlook of each employee, from upper management down the line. Over time, however, you'll discover that embracing these creative concepts becomes easier and more natural.
Open Lines of Communication
Since you understand your organization's culture, you also understand where there are barriers to communication throughout your organization. Each employee should feel confident sharing their ideas and thoughts with upper-level management. Your business needs open communication across every level in order to facilitate problem-solving, creativity, and innovation.
- Institute an open-door policy. Executives and leaders across the company should keep the doors to their offices open in order to encourage drop-in conversations.
- Encourage active participation in online forums.
- Regularly speak with employees to help open the doors to future communication.
- Create a culture in which employees acknowledge the ownership of a stake in the company and its success—one where they care about what is going on around them and work to make things better for the company.
Make Necessary Tools Accessible
Great ideas are one thing; having the tools necessary to implement them is something else entirely. Resource allocation needs to be focused on innovation. This might include:
- A budget that has the flexibility to recover from failures
- Materials that are available to any employee
- Willingness to devote time and effort to working with new ideas and concepts, rather than focusing primarily on processes that are already in place
- Offering the training necessary for employees to implement their own ideas and innovations
- Providing incentives that encourage employees to think creatively and implement their solutions
Keep an Eye on Frustration Levels
An employee who is frustrated by the way things are going in the company won't care as much about innovation. If they are feeling overworked or under-supported, they may not feel that they are able to think creatively, or that they’re able to take ownership of problems and work to solve them quickly.
Consider this in terms of the Dilbert Index: The more employees you have who are constantly complaining about things that are going wrong—whether internally or externally—the lower the odds that you're going to have positive innovation throughout your workplace. You want your employees to have pride and enthusiasm in their work, a direct connection to the company, and a willingness to give their best every day.
The best time to implement a culture of innovation in your business is during the early days before people become used to ‘the way things have always been done.' But luckily, it's never too late!
As you shift the focus of your company culture toward innovation, you'll discover incredible rewards that keep your company at the forefront of your industry, offering more and more incentives to continue on this path.
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