Innovation is key for companies to thrive amidst this era of digital transformation and unprecedented change. And it starts within the workforce. True, successful innovation should happen fluidly and regularly, a part of the everyday and a crucial element of the workplace's culture. For a modern business to grow, its staff must be made up of individuals who are constantly, curiously seeking out opportunities to innovate.
So what can you do to create a workplace that innovates successfully? 4 experts weigh in with ways they create a workplace that embraces innovation and contributes to their success:
1. Believe in your values
Shared values are at the core of any successful company. They are also critically important to building an innovative culture. Without a clear focus on what they are about and what is important to them, a business will suffer, with employees struggling to get on the same page and to feel inspired to innovate. "I think what really helps build any culture and team is doing what you say you're going to do - living your values, living your cultural principles," says Zoë Regent, Director of Innovation & Business Development at Save The Children. "So that there's never any contradiction between what, as the innovation team, we say we're here to do and the way that we actually behave." When it comes to an organizations value system, consistency is key.
2. Employ spaces which encourage innovation
If your company is struggling to openly innovate and candidly throw ideas around, switching up the environment or stepping into a new space can be hugely beneficial for staff mindset. Dr Tammy Watchorn, Head of Innovation at National Services, NHS Scotland, strongly promotes this change of environment. "For me, it's all about creating the right environments with a choice of tools to use," she advises. "We have done lots of things for all levels of staff, but mostly I think it is about creating new spaces and environments to enable people to work in a different way, to feel safe and supported in thinking creatively and challenging the norm."
She goes on to list the tools NHS Scotland use to switch up the pace. "We have done simple things like blind coffee dates, where people are matched randomly and meet for coffee, sparking many new ideas and collaborative working. We've had Friday Film club (a TEDx followed by Q&A) to encourage new thinking and networking.
"At the other end, we have had immersive problem solving 'sand pits' over 3-5 days, hosted in more creative spaces as a change of environment can have a massive impact on thinking and behaviours (and, it's interesting what people wear, they get more casual as the sand pit progresses!).
"And finally, and probably the most successful, has been the use of QUBE, run by Pentacle the Virtual Business School. This has enabled us completely change HOW we work to change WHAT we do. It's a safe, neutral, non-hierarchical space full of tools to do things at speed, to support innovation and creativity, and encourages collaboration across boundaries, geographies, and organizations. We have used this environment for prototyping, ideation, agile projects, leadership, training, and a variety of workshops. A recent virtual project took an age-old Scotland-wide problem and in just 3 weekly 1 hour sessions with a national group of surgeons we had alignment on a solution and a working prototype developed... now that, for me, is a real culture of innovation..."
3. Creating your own innovation
While it may often feel that a company has found the 'golden ticket' to innovation, it's important to resist the urge to mimic other organizations' innovation strategies and carve your own path. Tom Culver, Senior Innovation Advisor at RTI International, states that "companies sometimes assume that if they keep searching they'll find some magical innovation process that somebody else used that's going to be perfect for them. Of course, no such thing exists. You have to create those. So there's an expectation to not just be innovative, but to innovate around how you're innovating." Inspiration can, of course, come from what other organizations are doing, but your company is unique and so should your innovation program be.
4. Leave behind your focus on 'business case'
"Leave behind the focus on a 'business case' with fully assumed 'benefits' articulated for every initiative or a new idea," recommends Jo Clancy, Senior Strategy Analyst & Innovation Lead at the Transport Accident Commission. "Instead, have other more flexible ways for your people to obtain seed funding to experiment and try new things. There should still be a focus on objective measurement but different measures to those traditionally sought in business cases like ROI, revenue and or cost indicators, etc. Instead, focus more on customer engagement and uptake measures in the early phases."
Hear more from Zoe and Tammy at our Chief Innovation Officer Summit in London, April 25 & 26.