How to Foster a Culture of Innovation
We are fortunate to work with some of the world’s most innovative companies – from Google to Innocent, and P&G to Virgin. We’ve been able to understand what it takes to create an innovation culture. We call these the Must Bees of Innovation Culture.
Be clear about who you are
We like to talk about the ‘duvet chuck’, the thing which gets people out of bed on a cold, rainy Monday morning.
Having a compelling duvet chuck is essential when creating a culture of innovation; after all, if your people aren’t inspired to get out of bed in the morning, then they won’t be inspired to think creatively in the afternoon! IKEA exists to:
“Create a better everyday life for the many people”
This is an inspiring articulation of why someone would want to work for them. It is far more engaging than “selling flat pack furniture”.
Ask yourself, why does your business exist? How do you communicate this to your employees? Is this communication inspiring? How does it translate into the employee experience?
Be clear about who you want to hire
Your culture should attract and retain those people most likely to be passionate advocates for your brand and your business. If people love your business, then they will want to help improve it – offering ideas which work and enhance your end-user experience. For example, at South West Airlines, employees are hired on their ability to offer:
“positively outrageous customer service”
So they hire people who “take their jobs seriously, but not themselves.” One way they do this is asking people to dress up as what they wanted to be when they were a child for their job interview. If they wear a suit, they may not be the right cultural fit for South West Airlines!
Ask yourself, how might you recruit people who are right for your company’s culture?
Be in your customers’ shoes
Innovation will only deliver growth if it fulfils an un-met customer need. And you can only discover that un-met need if you spend time in your customers’ shoes. Innovative organisations find creative ways to ensure their employees see the world through the eyes of their customers, for example, Unilever had washing machines in their offices to get feedback from customers on new products and remind their staff why the company exists. Ikea recognises that the “many people” fly economy, so their travel policy is economy for all employees.
Ask yourself, do you see the world through the eyes your customer? As leaders, how close are you to your customers?
Be upfront about your culture
The link between culture and innovation lies in how you encourage, enforce and enable creativity to flourish. Some of this is to do with office design – we say grey formica offices give you grey formica ideas! Which is why places like Lego and Dyson have created areas to inspire creativity and drive innovation. It’s also about values, ensuring that behaviours help drive innovation – e.g. King.com talk about fresh ideas, fostering collaboration and being open to change.
Ask yourself, what structures and processes do you have in place to help instill an innovation culture? Does anything need to change?
When describing innovation, structure probably isn’t the word which springs to mind. Yet to create a systemic and sustainable culture of innovation, you need both the creative world – expansive thinking, paradigm breaking, fresh eyes – and the analytical world – structure, budgeting and capability.
One of Google’s Nine Notions of Innovation is that:
“creativity loves constraint”
So the most effective innovation happens when there are structures and processes in place to encourage, enforce and enable innovation.
Ask yourself, what structures exist to promote innovation in your business? Do they promote or discourage creativity?
“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got”
Famously said by Henry Ford. Innovation cultures encourage collaboration, challenging the status quo and create playful environments where experimentation is the order of the day. It’s this type of permission – to break the rules and rebel against days of old – which create continuous innovation. Celebrate failures, empower risk taking (within reason of course) and stop limiting creativity.
Ask yourself, how far do you encourage your teams to challenge the status quo?
If you’d like more examples from businesses who are getting innovation right, then download a copy of our Must Bees of Innovation Culture.