This blog outlines the defining features of a culture of innovation.
An organizational culture that supports innovation is the product of two things: the people in the organization—their leadership style, shared values, behaviours, attitudes, communication styles and working practices—and the infrastructure (e.g. policies, processes and systems).
In short, organizational culture is “the way we do things around here.” At TouchPoints, we define a culture of innovation as:
An environment with the agility to respond to change and provides the psychological safety, process and tools to leverage the creative thinking needed to innovate and gain economic and social value through new or improved products, services or processes.
Innovation is a leading indicator of an organization’s ability to sustain success. And in today’s uncertain and complex global business environment, maintaining success through a culture of innovation takes on increasing importance. A “culture of innovation” gives you a competitive advantage.
An organization’s culture is visible to employees and customers. The stories employees and customers tell about your organization will hint at its culture.
Creating an Culture that Supports Innovation
The reverse is also true. Vision, strategy and direction set at the organizational level will impact teams and individuals. Culture comes from the top: the CEO and executive team are primarily responsible for an organization’s culture. Their leadership style, values, behaviours and way of working set the tone for an organization’s culture.
Thus, if an organization wants a culture of innovation, the leadership team must take the lead by setting their intention, communicating it to the broader organization, and demonstrating their commitment to innovation through their behaviours and involvement in achieving innovation.
How do you set an intention? Develop and implement a strategy to define innovation in your context and answer the questions about who, what, where, when, why, and how you will innovate.
After setting the intention, the leadership team and employees can take the following four steps:
- Create a shared understanding of innovation
- Create a work environment that supports creativity and
- Build innovation skills and introduce a process for
- Measure the impact.
These four steps are described further below.
1. Create a shared understanding of innovation
How and why to innovate will look different from one company to the next. Innovation is contextual, which means that while you may understand the importance of innovation, you need to create a shared understanding of what it is, what it looks like, and what it will do for your organization.
Asking your teams “to be innovative” won’t get you there. However, forming a shared and specific vision of what innovation means as you do your daily work will help.
Innovation can extend beyond revolutionary new technologies, products and services, like the computer, the cellphone or space travel. There is much to be gained from changes that provide value to your customers and employees. This concept is called incremental innovation.
Whether revolutionary or incremental, at its essence, innovation is about:
Responding to existing or anticipated change to keep your organization vital, viable, productive and relevant so you can benefit the people you serve and contribute to economic growth and prosperity in the places you operate.
Innovation intends to make our lives better and easier. The outcome of innovation is measurable value for the organization and the economy. The reward is the sustainability of the organization. This is where having an innovation strategy comes in handy. The trick is to translate a general definition of what innovation is to what it specifically looks like and is intended to do in your organization. It’s got to be in plain language, and it has to be relevant to everyone in the organization.
2. Create a work environment that supports creativity and innovation
An organizational culture that supports innovation supports creativity—one where creativity is welcomed, expressed and accepted with respect.
In the 1980s, Swedish researcher Goran Ekvall set out to discover what organizational conditions hampered or stimulated creativity and innovation. He found ten dimensions that impact the environment, represented in the diagram below.
I put “work environment” ahead of “build innovation skills” in this list of four actions; minor tweaks to the work environment help create the conditions for innovation skills such as creativity to flourish. Building innovation skills is only possible if the workplace is conducive to people using them!
3. Build innovation skills and introduce a process for innovation
Individuals and teams must be equipped with innovation skills to support innovation better. The challenge is that much of our educational training focuses on developing critical thinking skills and searching for the correct answer. To be innovative, we need to think and act differently and leverage creative thinking.
The Conference Board of Canada has researched the skills, attitudes and behaviours individuals need to contribute to innovation in the workplace. They are grouped into four skill sets:
- Creativity, problem-solving and continuous improvement skills
- Risk assessment and risk-taking skills
- Relationship-building and communication skills
- Implementation skills
Learn more about these four skill sets and how to assess and develop your innovation skills in our previous blog post, How to Develop Innovation Skills.
The best way we’ve found to build innovation skills in organizations is by teaching the creative problem-solving process (CPS) and engaging people in using the process to tackle innovation challenges.
TouchPoints Learning & Innovation teaches creative problem solving using the FourSight Thinking System™ and teaches organizations how to engage people in the process of innovation through Creativity and Innovation Training and our ThinkUP Innovation Framework™ program.
With FourSight, an assessment helps you understand what kind of creative thinker you are, and collaborative tools help you navigate the CPS process with your team. You can use FourSight to support organizational change and transformation efforts. It builds agility and resilience to change by providing a means to organize your thinking and keep moving forward when faced with complexity, uncertainty, and constraints.
Third-party research (2013, 2015) shows an impact 6 – 18 months after training on creativity and innovation skills development. Research conducted by IBM (2007) shows that teams with FourSight thinking preference awareness and process awareness outperform those without.
Our clients experience similar results. Here’s what they tell us they like about FourSight:
- It is readily accepted, adopted and implemented.
- As a process for innovation – it makes innovation structural and language-based.
The assessment helps people understand how they are creative and how they can bring their best thinking to work.
- It plays well with others – you can use it with any business practice, with any other innovation protocols you may have already implemented, and to enhance organizational change and transformation efforts.
4. Measure the impact
After implementing the previous three actions to become an an organizational culture that supports innovation, we suggest measuring the impact.
In any organizational effort, what gets measured gets done. Measures are important. They remind us we’re working towards doing something of value, and they help us understand the progress we’re making in building a culture of innovation and achieving innovation outcomes.
Like innovation, how you measure it is contextual. I’ve written about the challenges of measuring innovation and new research on more sensible measures.
If you’re investing in building innovation skills in your workforce and would like to measure how you’re building an innovation culture, consider using the Organizational Growth Indicator (OGI)™.
When administered at the start of an initiative (and measured annually), the OGI can help you track and fine-tune your organization’s progress to higher levels of innovation capability.
Many of our clients have found the OGI helpful as a means to:
- Pinpoint the hidden factors that support and constrain their organization’s ability to innovate
- Improve the skills of their talent and the performance of the organization by providing feedback on where learning and development efforts are best focused
- Evaluate the impact of their training and development efforts to support innovation.
The organizational culture that supports innovation is a “culture of innovation.”
Culture is simply the way we work. By changing your work to work more creatively and innovatively, you can become an organizational culture supporting innovation. An organization is the sum of its parts. Impact the individual and teams to impact your work in the organization. Culture, however, is set at the top. Thus, it’s essential for the leadership team to develop their intentions for an innovative culture and to demonstrate their commitment to innovation through their behaviours and involvement in the process of achieving innovation.
Four actions to take to change the way you work and better support innovation are:
- Create a shared understanding of innovation
- Create a work environment that supports creativity and innovation
- Build innovation skills and introduce a process for innovation
- Measure the impact.
Are you building a culture of innovation?
Whether for your team or across your organization, our ThinkUP Innovation Framework™ is an ingenious way to develop your team while they work and positively impact results by the next quarter.
The ThinkUP™ Innovation Framework Program teaches your team(s) the innovative thinking skills, tools and processes needed to collaborate effectively, work across functions, respond creatively to change and add continuous value to your organization.
Using an action learning model that tackles real work challenges, this program brings immediate, sustainable and long-term impact to your organizational culture. Let’s talk about how we can help you.