How do I create an innovative culture?
When it comes to a change in the organisation a manager can adjust three buttons:
Most managers are inclined to turn the structure and process button. They adjust the organisation scheme to a matrix or project organisation. A management layer is cut or procedures are adjusted through a quality system or a smart ICT tool. Often, the culture button is forgotten or the managers stumble onto it on the way; a great fallacy and the reason why changes go wrong, as:
Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast
This statement was first coined by Ford Motor Company, although this perception didn’t prevent Ford from standing on the brink of disaster. I do, however, completely agree. Because it doesn’t matter how many plans you make, how many external consultants you hire and brilliant strategies you concoct; all does not stand a chance if the culture of your organisation does not want to embrace innovation. Culture determines your organisation’s success more than organisation structure or solid working processes. Well then: how do you create an innovative culture?
In my opinion, Pixar is a great example. They train their employees in the principles of improvisation in order to reach better solutions quicker. Thus, they are trained to approach each question and problem with the following attitude: How can I plus this. The former chairman of Pixar Academy, Randy Nelson, superbly explains it in this video.
Another example is Zappos, an extremely successful online retailer in America. The pillars of Zappos are built on ten core values, or call it the ten commandments of Zappos. I will name the first and the last one:
1 Deliver WOW through service
10 Be humble
The ten core values are illustrated in a service manual, but are really quite obvious. Anyway, it’s safe to say that they appeal to the imagination and contrast sharply with the sticker I recently found on the inside of a corporate toilet door, asking me whether I had erased my skid marks…
You don’t change a culture by putting up a sticker, but by continuously paying attention to the desired behaviour. Leaders achieve that by setting the right example and by pointing out bad examples and potential punishments. Rewards and punishments then are merely a means to grow with each other and talk about desired and undesired actions. But there is more to instigating an innovative culture. Below, four possible solutions are presented.
Investigating your own culture is always the right way to go. After all, change starts with self-insight. Several tools have been developed to investigate the innovative climate of your own organisation, for example the Situational Outlook Questionnaire (SOQ). This tool is scientifically substantiated and reputable. Furthermore, there are numerous tests and researches that define team construction, preferable thinking patterns, or interaction between team members. My advice: pick one and chiefly use it as a means to activate the dialogue about the present and the desired creative culture. Don’t cling to the test results of your MBTI profile.
The leader is a crucial part of any innovative culture. This holds for all leaders. You can appoint a Chief Culture Officer (CCO), but you can also stimulate leadership and initiative-taking in all employees, for example by training them in improv skills, like Pixar. We know now that directive leadership is no longer effective and that the new leader has a completely different profile than the old one. The new leader especially inspires and is enthusiastic, challenges and evokes. According to this blog,(in Dutch) there are seven characteristics that classify an inspiring leader:
3: Stimulate guts
Ask any entrepreneur what the most significant quality of innovation is and the word guts shows up in the answer. We need courage to let go of the old ways and embrace the new ones, even though we don’t exactly know what the new ways will bring us. Innovating is risk-taking from a worldly vision. It also means slipping and celebrating failures. The more often and the sooner you fail, the more chance there is on success. Some even say that failure is the only option if you want to be successful. 21Lobsterstreet introduced the “nearling”: a new word for an initiative that hasn’t led to the desired result yet.
4: Systematic viewing
Everything is connected. In the contemporary complex society a wrongfully placed tweet can completely ruin the reputation of an organisation. Ask T-Mobile when Dutch cabaret performer Youp van ‘t Hek started twittering about their customer service. This implies an organisation has to be aware of the connections between different parts. When you, as the change manager, start turning a button, it could have mayor consequences that you can’t handle. A model that can help us view innovation systematically is the 7C model. JB Lorenz has written more about this in another blog, which underpins the connection between content and innovations, culture and structure as one systematic entity. The fact is, without decent content, innovation is not possible.
As a leader, consider what you are starting when you create an innovative culture. Many companies have proven that it is possible and so can you, as long as your actions are focussed on a vision for the future.
Want to respond to this blog post? Or you would like a quick scan of your organisation? Contact Joost Kadijk