by Greg Simpson

Driving innovation with your teams

May 13, 2016
InnovationIT Leadership

The strategic imperative behind building a culture of innovation...innovation requires more than just free food and foosball, it starts and ends with great people.rn

crowdsource innovation
Credit: Thinkstock

In last month’s blog I talked about how to keep your C-Suite in the fast lane. What about the rest of the organization? How do you drive a culture of innovation throughout your business? Everyone is vying to create a collaborative workspace; bright colors, comfortable seating, and even free food. But what does it take to truly enculturate innovative start up thinking deep into your organization and why is it important?

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The oft-repeated quote highlights how critical corporate culture is to driving innovation at an organization. The good news is that innovation is something both employees and corporations want.Job review site recently analyzed millions of employee reviews to rank the top 50 places to work among Fortune 500 companies. “The happiest employees often work for companies that challenge industry status quos with innovative business models,” Indeed said in its analysis.[1]

Even though free food and foosball can create an active and creative opportunity to generate the chance meetings that help spark new ideas, that alone won’t get you far on your innovation journey. Here are some of the other items I find important when driving a cultural change in an organization.

  • Classic Change Management – Visionary leadership is so important in setting the cultural tone of an organization. Innovative culture is a huge change in many organizations, and classical change management techniques are required to get people to work in the new paradigm. One of the most important things to do when driving big change initiatives is to first make sure everyone understands the mission and why it is important. Clearly articulating your “innovative culture” movement as a critical part of how your company can win in its industry is more than just a fad. It is imperative to attracting and retaining employees as well as staying competitive. Many traditional industries are undergoing digital transformations, and if we don’t transform our own companies, someone else will do it for us. Clarify your values, your mission, and tie innovation to the masthead of how your company will succeed. This is the first step in making a change like this happen.
  • 10x Thinking. – You need an audacious goal. Elon Musk wants to retire on Mars. That’s pretty audacious, but the SpaceX team is motivated to work hard to try and bring interplanetary space travel to a reality! We don’t all belong to rocket ship companies, but we can all set 10x goals. Google talks about 10x thinking as a key element of their innovation strategy.[2] 10x goals are goals that would change the game in our industry instead of just incrementally improving what we already have. The most famous example of this moonshot mentality is President John F. Kennedy’s famous moonshot speech[3]: “We choose to go to the Moon!…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
  • Forgiveness – Failing fast for the sake of innovation means you need to be willing to forgive failure. Lots of innovators talk about moving forward, pivoting to correct course and continuing on. However, for 10x thinking, sometimes an approach fails and you need to begin again. As a leader, you must be comfortable with this in order to foster 10x thinking.
  • Great People – One of the most important things for a business’ success is its people. You can never spend too much energy on seeking out and hiring great talent and taking the time to ensure that new employees are a good fit for your company.  Losing a salaried employee can cost as much as 2x their annual salary[4], so make sure you get it right and take care of good employees.  According to Gallup’s latest poll[5] only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015.The Indeed report found that today’s workforce is motivated by whether the work is meaningful much more than by money or status.
  • Fun – I do believe that happy people are more productive. That’s where some of the food and foosball fits in. But remember that innovation starts and ends with great people, and requires great leadership to make this a true cultural shift in how the business operates.

People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. The good news is that defining your new innovative culture can appeal to this basic human need, if you couple it with audacious goals, visionary leadership, and – of course – great teams of people. In its report, Indeed observed that “Compensation has the weakest correlation with the overall job satisfaction score. By contrast, company culture and quality of management have the closest correlation.”[6]

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Work to develop your new innovative businesses culture. If you don’t, you might find that your best employees are going elsewhere, and with them go your best ideas and chances for success.

[1] “What Are the Top Companies to Work For in 2016?,” Indeed blog, May 5, 2016.

[2] “Creating a Culture of Innovation: Eight ideas that work at Google,” Google.

[3] “Address at Rice University on the Nation’s Space Effort,” President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962.

[4] “Employee Retention – The Real Cost of Losing an Employee,” ZaneBenefits blog, February 4, 2016.

[5] “Employee Engagement in the U.S.,” Gallup, January 13, 2016.

[6] “What Are the Top Companies to Work For in 2016?,” Indeed blog, May 5, 2016.