How to Foster a Culture of Innovation at Work

Companies are constantly struggling to embed a culture of innovation in their business since it has become an essential ingredient for success. Think of some of the most recognisable brands for a second: Apple. Google. Netflix. What do all these companies have in common? Yes, all these companies are worth billions now, but before reaching this milestone, they all were propelled by a single strategy: developing a culture of innovation in the workplace.

Encouraging employees to innovate pays off in ways big and small – from generating greater publicity to boosting conversions and sales. However, successful leaders realize that change initiatives can be mentally and emotionally difficult for most employees, so they act as an anchor in rough seas for their team, improving the efficacy of their company’s internal process and keeping the team on track. According to Harvard Business Review, democratizing experimentation is the key to enabling employees to make good decisions on their own and accelerate innovation and improvements.

Let’s look at three important ways how leaders can foster a culture of innovation at their workplace:

Hire A Diverse Workforce

Innovative teams aren’t born in a vacuum. And a team comprised exclusively of opulent white males is certainly a vacuum.

There has already been a lot of talk going on the diversity issue in tech and other industries. And here’s the gist of the matter: the first step to boosting innovation is hiring people from diverse backgrounds spanning different races, genders, familial, geographic and socioeconomic histories – so on and so forth, and offering these people opportunities to discuss exciting ideas in an inclusive environment.

A research conducted by North Carolina State University provides a strong business case for diversity. According to the study, there are three primary reasons why companies promoting diversity may be more innovative.

First, teams with a wider range of people have a more eclectic range of interests, experiences and backgrounds to learn from. As diverse teams think about problems in a different way, they tend to be better problem-solvers, working out ingenious solutions more often. Second, diverse companies tend to attract and retain more diverse talent. For instance, if your company is all about young, white males, no other type of person would want to work for you. You, therefore, blow your chance to hire people that might heavily contribute to your company’s growth. Third, diverse companies possess some kind of “halo effect” that makes them more attractive to women and minorities.

A design and innovation consultancy Ziba, headquartered in Portland, is a strong advocate of diversity. The company has 120 employees with their origins from 18 different countries, so the fact that the team members speak 26 different languages shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s also not difficult to see the connection between this diverse team and the fact that Ziba is consistently listed at the top of its class.

Once you hire a diverse team, you company will fully be able to perform creatively and satisfy the needs of the diverse consumer base.

Create an Agile Innovation Strategy

Agile innovation strategy is essentially about working quickly and efficiently, thriving on a relentless and ongoing basis to out-innovate the competition, all while ensuring that everyone in your organization is included in the process.

Agile transformation coach Gerard Chiva reveals the secret to making this change possible: “Structure comes first; culture follows. The problem does not lie in people not being innovative or the organizational culture being bureaucratic; it lies in the structures, processes and systems in place that stifle innovation.” When implementing a culture of agile innovation, here are some points you need to take care of:

Continuous improvement: Find ways to continuously upgrade and improve, both personally and as an organization.

Servant leadership: As a manager, focus on coaching, mentoring and solving problems instead of merely telling people what to do.

Trust: Put trust in your people and teams to make informed decisions about the work that is being done.

Lead from The Top

People might expect CEOs to hole up in a cozy office somewhere and direct the company from behind closed doors. But that’s certainly not how you foster innovation.

Since CEOs and founders have a powerful influence on a company’s innovation and performance, they need to be forward-thinking and passionate about their work, should display a positive and optimistic outlook, have a real drive and clear vision, and mainly embrace change.

Whether top-down or across the board, CEOs wanting to lead innovation at work should take a thorough look at their company’s structure and culture to recognize if they are helping or hurting the mission.

With every policy change, every decision, every communication with employees, ask yourself if it will encourage motivation or impede it. Simultaneously, instead of spending all your time in the isolation of your effective offices, try to get in touch with your customers and recognize their needs. For instance, if you work in a bank, take some time out to sit in a branch for an afternoon to observe things that hurt the customers’ experience. If you own a food and beverage company, spend some time in supermarkets to watch how customers make decisions.

Successful business leaders’ mantra for high-performance is innovation, which is why they themselves become a change agent and work alongside their team.

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Author: Paul Keijzer

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