How to build an innovation culture - 8 top tips for 2021 | The Big Bang Partnership

How to build an innovation culture – 8 top tips for 2021

innovation culture in action

This article is all about innovation culture. I’m going to share:

  • What is innovation culture?
  • Why does innovation culture matter?
  • How do you perceive the innovation culture of your team or business, and how does that affect your performance?
  • How you can measure the innovation culture of your team or business
  • What you can do to create a better innovation culture at work
Dr. Jo North
Dr. Jo North

What is innovation culture?

A definition of innovation culture is how an organisation’s purpose, practices, processes, internal and external relationships, decision-making, activities, history and ambition and more all combine to create an environment that achieves successful innovation. It’s an organisational culture that is both supportive and capable of innovation.

Listen now: Podcast – How to Create Innovation Culture with Dr. Jo North & Mark Brown

Why does innovation culture matter?

Csikszentmihalyi (1999) identifies that creativity is only recognised and acknowledged within the social context that it exists within, and depends not just on the individual creativity of those who have new ideas, but also on how receptive the surrounding organisation is to those new ideas. 

This is highly relevant in the context because we all operate within the ‘community’ of our employing organisation – the receptiveness of the organisation to our individual creativity will influence how innovative we are at work, and in turn the results that our organisations achieve.

So if we perceive that we work in a positive innovation culture, we are more likely to be encouraged and motivated to be more innovative ourselves. Likewise, a less innovative culture is a disincentive for individuals to engage in innovation and share ideas.

Individual and team creativity fuels organisational innovation, which in turns impacts on individual and team creativity as a mutually reinforcing virtuous circle. 

Creativity is an antecedent to innovation –  appropriate ideas and opportunities need to be recognised and communicated by individuals in order for the ideas to be used in practice. 

It’s helpful to think of every person in the business as an organisational catalyst, mobilising the motivation and resources of the organisation and activating its management practices to results. 

And as the organisation enjoys and gains confidence from the individual’s successful generation of beneficial organisational outcomes, so is likely to become more receptive to further innovation initiatives. 

This in turn may also be catalytic in motivating the individual to propose and effect more innovation opportunities to the organisation, creating a virtuous circle. There is a clear link between the organisation and individual employee performance

Individual employees need to be in an environment that supports innovation, because:

“When environments and structures are hospitable to innovation, people’s natural inventiveness and power skills can make almost anything happen.” Kanter (1983)

Long-term growth and profitability is linked with progressive human resources practice and employee engagement. Most organisations will benefit from learning how to trust their employees and give them the opportunity and encouragement to use their creativity to benefit the business, leveraging their innovation capability as a unique, competitive advantage and source of competitive differentiation.

How do you perceive the innovation culture of your team or business, and how does that affect your performance?

How do you feel about your team or organisation? Do you perceive it to be too slow and risk averse, gung-ho and risk taking or just right?

We each see our environment through the lens of our our preferences. So a risk averse person may not see a risk averse business as a problem, but someone who loves big change and new ideas might see that same business as being an incredibly frustrating place to work, as if they are banging their heads against a brick wall repeatedly to get any changes made.

The important thing for you regardless of your preference is to be in an innovation culture that is right for you. If you are a leader or influencer in the business, you have a great opportunity to shape the innovation culture for the better, using the tips below at the end of the article. If you’re not in a position to influence, think about how any dissonance with the culture might be affecting your performance and happiness at work and maybe start to look for other opportunities. Research shows that we perform better when we can play to our strengths, so if you don’t believe that you’re getting to use yours most days, then it could be time for a change.

How can you measure the innovation culture of your team or business?

Different employees working in very similar circumstances in the same team or organisation could hold very different perceptions of the innovation culture of that same team or organisation.

An individual’s evaluation of innovation culture will always be subjective, regardless of the instrument used to test it, but it’s still worth seeing where you’re at, taking action to improve and then remeasuring. 

I can help you to create an innovation culture survey, strategy and implementation plan tailored just for you and your business that will create a step change in the effectiveness of your innovation culture, and lead to measurable commercial results, as well as significant improvements to your employee and customer engagement.

What can you do to create a better innovation culture at work?

  1. Foster an integrative approach to problem-solving across the business. This means bring people from different teams, roles and disciplines together to collaborate on creating solutions for specific business opportunities and challenges. This destroys silos and leads to greater organisational performance overall, which naturally leads to a more positive and effective innovation culture. Ideal conditions for innovation are a culture that is highly differentiated into specialised fields and roles, yet is held together by a shared purpose, vision and appreciation for collaboration.
  2. Identify your most dynamic, high-potential innovators. Maybe you’re one of them? They thrive on personal stretch (i.e. challenges that mean they need to work at the very edge of their competency), being future-focused and having the ability to synthesise ideas from sources that appear to have no obvious connection. Research, including my own, shows that might become bored easily. Offer variety and access to new problems and opportunities to solve.
  3. Build a trusting environment. Innovations often experience setbacks and failures before they succeed. An individual innovator is taking a risk every time they propose or take accountability for something new. Risk-taking and potential failure are ingredients of creative acts. Making risk-taking and failure less threatening and dangerous promotes creative behaviour. When creative initiatives are met with suspicion, defensiveness and aggression, the individual’s fear of failure becomes strong and they are much less likely to voice what could be potentially great ideas for the business.
  4. Give people the time and tools they need to do the job. This does not mean unlimited budget. In fact, research shows that having some constraints such as a limited budget actually strengthens creativity and innovation.
  5. Watch out for stress and pressure. It’s very subjective. Something that stresses the heck out of me might not bother you at all, and vice versa. Our individual threshold for stress and pressure varies too. Some people seem to be able to absorb a lot, and others less. Every individual has their own sweet spot. We need the right amount to give us a boost to crack on and make stuff happen, but not so much that we become overwhelmed and end up in fight , flight or “in the headlights” mode.
  6. Take calculated risks that you can afford if they go wrong. Experiment and test stuff. We don’t learn anything unless we trial things. We won’t learn anything from keeping an idea on the shelf because we don’t get any feedback on what works and what doesn’t. When people in your team or business see that it’s ok to try things out, they’ll feel better about taking action on their ideas. 
  7. Collaboration includes being playful and having fun. Playfulness is potentially most important during the creativity stages of the innovation process, but useful throughout as it supports a sense of shared experience and team working.
  8. Don’t sit on ideas for too long. Make decisions in a reasonable timescale and then act swiftly. Research shows that perceptions of  innovation culture increase substantially when individuals see dynamic, decisive action being taken around them.

Get expert support

As I said earlier, I can help you to create an innovation culture survey, strategy and implementation plan tailored just for you and your business that will create a step change in the effectiveness of your innovation culture, and lead to measurable commercial results, as well as significant improvements to your employee and customer engagement.

Please get in touch in the comments and using the contact form here, and I will get straight back to you. We will have a confidential Zoom or Teams call for you to share your thoughts, challenges and ambitions for your innovation culture and I will listen, ask questions and give you some options to get the results you’re after.

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