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9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change and Improvement, Part IV: Innovative Thinking & Action

“We are what we repeatedly do.” (Aristotle)

How can we create corporate cultures that enable a shared and agile approach to enacting significant and enduring departures from the shackles of the status quo?

I’m currently writing a series on the subject, 9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change and Improvement. These are cultural attributes that I have learned in my more than 20 years as a serial Change Master, ground organizations in the envisionment of, planning for and execution of transformative change.

  1. Unwavering Commitment
  2. Results Focus
  3. Resiliency
  4. Innovative Thinking & Action
  5. Transparency
  6. Empowerment
  7. Accountability
  8. Inclusivity and Belonging
  9. Inclusive Approach to Conflict Resolution

In this blog I focus on Innovative Thinking and Action. See my earlier blogs on Unwavering Commitment, Results Focus and Resiliency at www.greatcircleassociates.com.

It has been shown that corporate culture is one of the biggest barriers to promoting innovation performance. Organizations may not value innovation, and they do not cultivate agile, outcome-focused processes for the consideration of innovative ideas.

Strong cultures are the engines that drive organizations to continuously change and improve. The importance of a strong culture is magnified during a crisis. Organizations with strong cultures will typically come together and actually perform better. This is because of a shared understanding of an organization’s purpose; trust in the leadership and employees’ individual and collective commitment to doing their part to move the business forward.

Those with weak cultures tend to lose their will to rise above; they go into survival mode where every employee is watching out for her/his own interest vs putting the interest of the organization and their colleagues first.

A culture of innovation must harmonize with an organization’s Goals and Strategies.

Communications around the types of innovative ideas that are being sought is a must, enabling employees to focus on actions that are needed and expected. And the communications should be continuous and organization-wide.

Importantly, innovation cultures have a high tolerance for ‘fast failure,’ a philosophy that values extensive testing and incremental development to determine whether an idea has value. An important goal of the philosophy is to cut losses when testing reveals something isn’t working and quickly try something else, a concept known as pivoting.

That said, Harvard professor Gary Pissano writes: “Innovative cultures are paradoxical…a tolerance for failure requires an intolerance for incompetence. A willingness to experiment requires rigorous discipline. Psychological safety requires comfort with brutal candor. Collaboration must be balanced with individual accountability. And flatness requires strong leadership. Unless the tensions created by the paradoxes are carefully managed, attempts to create an innovative culture will fail.”

How to create a culture of innovation:

  1. Begin with a brutally honest assessment aimed at understanding why things are what they are. Does it relate to reward and incentive systems, the profile of employees that are hired, certain structures, policies and procedures, etc.? Identify and improve your ability to leverage your strengths but be ruthless about the consideration of changes that could make a difference.
  2. Begin at the top with leaders role modeling desired behaviors such as tolerance for failure and shared acknowledgement of lessons learned; the willingness to experiment; the encouragement of psychological safety, high levels of collaboration and the avoidance of hierarchical approaches to getting things done in favor of team oriented (often cross-functional) structures.
  3. Identify passionate champions who will evangelize the needed change – change masters and influencers who enjoy organization-wide trust who can help naysayers buy into the possibilities and their achievability. They are movement builders who should be incented to dig into opportunities to consider and execute big bold strategies that are aligned with the organization’s Mission, Vision and Goals.
  4. Measure success by asking what business value an employee or team have delivered, how sustainable that value has been, what new ideas have been generated and how many of them were actually executed.
  5. Organize Innovation events and competitions for all employees where new innovations are announced and celebrated, and where ideation is facilitated, focused on relevant strategies. Grant employees the ability to pitch ideas, submit business plans and apply for budgets. An additional benefit is that they promote networking and cross-departmental collaboration, which is a breeding ground for new ideas.
  6. Create innovation spaces that promote creativity and collaboration. They should be architecturally inspired, for example, through colorful design and plenty of daylight – replete with flip charts, white boards, etc. that facilitate the generation of new ideas.
  7. Develop training and development programs that create innovation competencies such as creative thinking, problem-solving and future-oriented thinking.
  8. And, finally, an innovation culture is not sustainable without a significant emphasis on the celebration of innovative ideas that have found their ways to the marketplace – to include the recognition of individual employees and the honoring of big ideas and small ideas.

Contact me at lin.coughlin@greatcircleassociates.com to learn more.

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