Innovation 101: The Culture Boundary

How can a company change its culture to create an innovative and agile organization?


When it comes to making innovation a competitive advantage, companies should ask themselves two questions;

(1) If your current innovation business impact is strong, do you know why and is it sustainable?

(2) Innovation impact is not performing satisfactorily, do you know why and how to fix it?

With the majority of business leaders expressing dissatisfaction about their current innovation initiatives, and with a number of agencies offering a magic solution to fix them, this article takes a look at the way companies can identify, establish or protect one of the most critical parts of innovation – their culture.

Whilst the term ‘culture’ is overused, it really comes down to what you do and how you do it.

In David Maister’s book ‘Strategy and the Fat Smoker’, he comments that whilst most companies have the same strategy, it is how you are organized to deliver it that determines success. Unfortunately, many companies don’t understand this or are unwilling to do what it takes to enable innovation.

Those that deliver correctly– win.

Success is based on being faster and better than your competition when chasing a similar strategy, and this is why culture is so important.

If we assume you have absolute clarity as to where you play and how you will win versus your competitive set, let’s focus on culture, people and how well you enable them to deliver.

Here are the areas of your culture you need to know for certain;

-Does every level of your team have the clarity to know where you want to play and how you will win?

-What are the right skills needed and do your people have them?

-Do your KPIs encourage the desired behaviours and attitudes or in fact create unintended consequences?

-Is there enough thinking outside the box? Using one’s own initiative? Is there commitment to do whatever it takes to find solutions to barriers?

-Or are your people faced with following the company’s rules? Restricted by capital, technology, assets, finance limitations, research techniques? Many internal decision makers and those who can say No?

-Are there any conflicting KPIs or styles of leadership between the functions or regions or divisions?

-How do you define innovation progress?

According to CEB, the typical measures used do not correlate with the best innovation outputs

-Are your processes swift enough but enable right level of rigor in decision-making?

-How devolved and swift is your decision making and how well are people empowered?

How do you know that all these are in place & working well?

How do you protect this, so if and when your strategy changes or your people change, your culture doesn’t change unintentionally?

Or if you’re not sure you have all the above in place, how do you check what you have, then establish the desired culture?

The most effective way I have found to do this is straightforward, but before you start, you must be open to feedback, then committed to act on the outcomes and required changes.

Most importantly, bringing visibility to your culture - what all your different people actually believe & actually do is invaluable for assessing where you are now, then keeping this front of mind, for nurturing or strengthening with specific communication, recruitment, development, rewards and enabling it to develop into a competitive advantage.The quality of your stakeholder interviews, the analysis, the workshop and the ensuring forward culture activation plan will determine the impact of your innovation success.


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