by Sarah K. White

3 ways your culture may be sabotaging innovation

May 16, 2017
InnovationIT Leadership

If your business is struggling to adapt to the digital age due to a lack of innovation, it might be time to reconsider your company culture.

innovation idea
Credit: Thinkstock

Digital transformation has left businesses scrambling to innovate around technology but if your business is failing at innovation, you might need to look at your company culture.

Uniting your workforce under a common goal is the best way to thrive and foster innovation in the digital age, says Barry Pellas, chief business technologist at PointSource, an IT consulting firm with a focus on digital transformation. Changing corporate culture is easier said than done, but companies stand to lose a lot if they can’t embrace this shift.

“If businesses fail to unify the company with a common goal, they risk a mis-allocation of resources, internal competition that halts project completion, and they’ll miss out on a wealth of creative ideas,” says Pellas.

Shifting corporate culture takes effort, but the payoff is worth the push. Pellas offers three reasons why your corporate culture is leaving innovation stagnant, and how you can work to shift workers’ attitudes.

[ Related story: Want to foster innovation? Get out of your comfort zone ]

Losing sight of the end-user

One of the hallmarks of a successful technology product is a user-friendly interface, one that consumers can start using right away with a low learning curve. However, Pellas says businesses have a habit of focusing on the “transaction” more than “delivering an end-product that keeps the user experience in mind.”

Pellas suggests shifting to a company-wide emphasis on “design thinking,” which is a strategy that designers often use to stay focused on the end-user.

“It’s a people-centric approach that combines the human touch, the integration of technology and keeping business success top of mind,” he says.

Pellas encourages businesses to instill this mind-set in every business unit to build a company culture that focuses on putting the user first. A shift to “design thinking” will get every employee thinking about the end-user, rather than focusing on his or her singular role in the lifecycle of a product or initiative.

Preaching for an innovative mindset at work is admirable, says John Underkoffler, the CEO of Oblong Industries, a company focused on modernizing workplace collaboration, but putting it into action isn’t as easy. It’s one thing to say you encourage innovation in the workplace, but it’s another to actively support innovative ideas with time, energy and resources.

“There are plenty of organizations that say they foster innovation but that in practice deny permission to individuals or teams who try to work in an innovative mode,” says Underkoffler.

Business leaders can’t just encourage innovation and leave it at that, they need to identify it throughout the business and then “recognize, receive and structure what gets innovated,” he says.

[ Related story: 3 tips to foster a culture of innovation ]

Ignoring cross-departmental collaboration

Companies suffer the most when they’re heavily de-centralized, with siloed departments that rarely interact with one another. This results in “fewer knowledge shares and innovative breakthroughs,” says Pellas.

However, businesses need to avoid approaching collaboration as just another project — it’s not something that can be booked on a calendar, it needs to become an “end-to-end way of seeing, interacting with and extending the world,” says Underkoffler.

“Constant communication is a keystone to digital transformation across any organization and when designers, developers and delivery teams are working together, organic innovation is all but certain,” say Pellas.

Lack of unification over common goals

Business leaders need to unify the company under one common goal if they want to encourage innovation. This goes back to encouraging design thinking and encouraging every business unit to work towards the same goal, such as offering user-friendly services and products.

“Varied goals create a disconnect across departments, often leading to inefficient processes and lack of a unified effort to make an impact on innovation,” says Pellas.

As always, this requires a top-down approach — one that executives and managers can model for the rest of the company. If employees fail to see business leaders living up to these standards of innovation, they will follow suit, according to Pellas.

“The company’s purpose and vision, its real substance at the largest scale, needs to be part of the air that everyone breathes.,” says Underkoffler. He says the “structure and process” of the entire business needs to support lines of open communication and innovative ideas.

If businesses can find this balance, they’ll create an environment with endless possibilities and a “human operating system that enables people’s best work and thinking to coalesce around powerful new ideas,” says Underkoffler.

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