How To Foster A Culture Of Innovation In The Workplace

“Innovation doesn't come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect.” - Steven Johnson

Without innovation, the long-term success of your business is in jeopardy. It’s not just about employing new devices or necessarily ‘re-inventing the wheel’ - it’s a mindset, a willingness to change and, in fact, a demonstrated passion for change.

First off, it’s important to have a focused structure in order to establish a culture of innovation in your organization. Innovation management process is a systematic approach for generating, prioritizing, evaluating and validating new ideas, as well as putting them into practice. Your people won’t develop innovative thinking if they don’t see new ideas being embraced as a policy.

Why bother? According to Global Innovation 1000, more innovative organizations outperform their competition in both revenue (11%) and Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization or EBITDA (22%). Innovative companies grow faster, are more profitable than the rest - and far less likely to go under.

Encourage debate
Innovation can’t happen in a vacuum - the best results usually come from ‘a meeting of minds’, where unique perspectives amalgamate to bring an idea to life. This only works if the right ‘brainstorming’ ground rules are in place: it needs to be democratic, where every team member’s voice is heard, and where everyone has an equal opportunity to give their input without fear or favor.

Be a leader who helps keep everyone’s eyes on the prize without stifling original thinking that may well benefit the end goal even (or especially!) if unconventional solutions are offered. Don’t expect creative discourse at a hastily called meeting if you haven’t actively fostered a culture of mutual respect and genuine openness to new ideas in every other facet of your organization. Positive change and shared vision require an environment energized by trust, loyalty, goodwill and a strong sense of both individual purpose and devotion to teamwork.

Engage with customers
Bill Gates asserts that “innovation requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs”. Often, it’s these conversations that inspire the development of new products, services and processes because if one customer tells you their needs could be better met in some way, it’s a solid indication that other customers have similar needs. Encourage your customer-facing staff to routinely seek feedback and ensure that there is a mechanism that allows them to pass what they learn up the chain.

Act on feedback
There’s no point encouraging the submission of new ideas from your people if you don’t follow through with acknowledgment, validation and implementation. The more adaptable your company is perceived to be, the more inclined your employees will be to offer positive inputs, and the more commitment they will demonstrate to change.   

“The only way you survive is you continuously transform into something else. It’s this idea of continuous transformation that makes you an innovative company.” - Ginni Rometty