Making Innovation Work: The Culture Block
Culture is everything, you have probably heard that several times. Many plans and strategies cannot survive the nuances of a team or organizational culture. We have all walked into offices only to be greeted by the poster on the wall that makes a grand statement about the mission, value and culture of the organization. These idealistic representations of what the culture should be are seldom reflective of what actually obtains in the offices. The bigger the organization gets, the more its workers are incentivized to keep/maintain the status quo.
Innovation culture i believe should be a combination of inspirational leadership, trust and transparency, understanding of the processes, and tolerance for diversity of skill sets, working styles and opinion. This may be called the hallmark of intrapreneurship, where the result is that everyone is ready to fail fast, where praises are easily given when earned, when leaders take a little bit more of the blame when things go wrong and less of the credit when things go right. But hey, i am sure you know that this utopian state of organizational culture will be happen in my dreams. We all talk about intrapreneurship, but talk is cheap. In my linkedin article a few years ago, i described why organizations fail at intrapreneurship.
My submission is that intrapreneurship or building a culture of innovation within any organization should:
- Be a methodical endeavour and not merely left to chance
- Shift from traditional job descriptions to more job missions
- Become comfortable with working with limited information and iterating along the way- by which subject matter expertise is not as emphasized as risk-taking
In his August 2017 Harvard Business Review article, Author and Innovation thought leader wrote about how CSAA Insurance group is fostering a culture of innovation among its employees. Innovation, rather than being a department siloed somewhere within the organization has been made a part of the talent management approach, added to the company’s values statement, included as a core competency (and scaled through innovation and design thinking trainings) and used as a decision factor in assessing rewarding and developing employees. The result has been an increase in the engagement of employees in innovation challenges/programs. You can read the full article here.
Making Innovation Work: The Tools Block
Tools come in handy only when the methodology or approach, processes and culture have been agreed upon. I have seen a way too many corporate innovation leads make the mistake of relying on a new found tool that promises to be the magic wand that will drive their innovation culture or solve the ever elusive growth problem. They speak of adopting the customer journey map or business model canvas but forget that putting the cart before the horse will only mean zero movement.
Tools are a commodity today, open source tools and other digital tools are easy to find scattered all over the internet, hence, forget about it being a competitive advantage. Startup founders seem to get this right. They invest more in the fundamental building blocks of innovation and let the task define the tool. Another common misconception i have found, especially with academically inclined innovation managers is a need to stick to the tools “no matter what”, the thought here is that the tool cannot be broken, our process, or our people is/are what needs to be changed.
My advice is never to stick to a tool for the sake of it, find comfort in dumping the tool if need be, even if it means that you come back to it later on after a few iterations – remember, innovation is never a smooth process, product development is a messy process that needs to embrace all the elements of lean creativity, and agile development.
Again, this is another area where startups excel above their corporate counterparts. Founders are keen to use a tool as long as it fulfils a key need, otherwise, what’s the use.
For innovators keen on learning the usefulness of the different tools out there and how they can be used in different groups, my innovation tools directory provides a good repository for that. Click here to download the tools.
These four elements are not all exhaustive, but they provide the necessary raw materials to derive value and impact from any innovation effort within a large corporate especially. It has often been said the corporate innovation leaders should learn from the startup culture, processes and approach. However, that is easier said than done. Bureaucracy, politics, legacy systems, and the paradox of growing an innovation practice within a profitable business will always pose a challenge, no matter how aggressive innovation goals are. Hence there is a need to have the needed guidelines to enable innovation.
So, ; “How is innovation facilitated?” And “What are the key elements to keep in mind?” Innovation is facilitated by adopting and executing the Four building blocks of innovation and the most important elements to keep in mind are these building blocks and their relationship with one another.
Making innovation work is never easy. The challenge for innovation leaders in corporate organizations is to keep all these elements intact and effective at the same time. Speed is of essence, afterall what is the use of perfecting an internal engine that will only churn out non-competitive products/offerings. The burden of making innovation real should be carried by forward thinkers who are obsessed by the need to get things done, and not by theorists who quest for perfection.