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The Innovation Culture

What is an innovation culture? It can be defined simply as ‘the way we work’. It embodies shared behaviours, beliefs and attitudes. In the area of innovation, it will reflect the extent to which the processes and techniques defined by the senior team are adopted by the organisation.

You can’t create an Innovation Culture without bringing people with you! People will create a culture of innovation if managed effectively. We at Innovation Leaders believe that everyone has something to contribute to being more innovative and in creating an Innovation Culture – it is all embracing and central to becoming good at innovation. Through a combination of specialist HR Consulting and management coaching services linked to web based diagnostic tools and action based workshops Innovation Leaders can help embed a culture of innovation and creativity into your business.

Why is an innovation culture important? To be effective an innovation framework needs the commitment of key stakeholders – people. Senior managers need to be open to new ideas, as innovation only thrives in a supportive culture. There needs to be a champion who drives every idea through to completion, an executive sponsor who allocates the necessary budget and resources and a motivated team to implement an idea. Someone in charge needs to identify the key factors that foster a culture of innovation within their organisation.

There is no one single global innovation culture – it is different between organisations and countries. However, at all levels of an organisation, people are effectively the eyes and ears of the business, constantly scanning for market trends, competitor activities, tech scanning and assessing customer requirements and internal insights. It is often said that ‘people are our most important asset’. If that is truly the case then organisations need to invest in them by giving them training and an infrastructure that supports an innovation culture.

Innovation Management requires champions. People who will drive change, overcome setbacks, convince skeptics and set the framework for an innovation culture and to do new things. From a Chief Innovation Officer to a Team Innovation Coach – people are central to innovation success!

We know that culture change does not come about from training courses alone! However for effective transformation and setting the right parameters for a creative culture to flourish we believe that managers need to understand what is required. Culture and culture change is a top down approach. If managers are not setting the standards and ‘walking the walk’ then a culture change will not occur.

How to set an Innovation Culture:


business innovation framework
  • Innovation Accelerator Programme – understand how the whole Integrated Innovation Process works and how it can be integrated into your business culture. Using the 6 Ps approach the programme shows how people are central to an innovation culture
  • Creativity workshops – to get the creative juices flowing! Whilst we believe everyone can contribute in terms of innovation, being creative is something different again. Innovative ideas have to be generated and work on. These workshops take specific business issues and work on them in a group approach until new ideas and concepts are generated. Hard work, but fun!
  • Innovation & Strategy courses – for those who want to really understand what innovation is at a senior management level. It is about creating and culture of continuous innovation through effective knowledge management.
  • Project Management course – learn how to manage innovation projects to implementation. Nothing is more frustrating than creating great ideas only to see them fail through poor project management. Get the basics of PM right here.

Innovation Champions

The most innovative companies we have worked with have an all embracing approach to innovation. It is a ‘full scale’ culture where everyone is involved in creating a culture of innovation. How to do this? Ideally this starts at the top of the organisation where at least one member of the executive team will take personal responsibility for driving innovation across the organisation. This person needs to have strategic oversight, have influence over budgets and, most importantly, be prepared to challenge current thinking in all areas of the business. Easy to state, difficult to achieve.

The single greatest influence upon an organisation’s innovation culture is the most senior executive. As such you need to ensure that they are actively and visibly committed to the cause of innovation. It must go further than the Board. Each team, function head or project leaders should have an innovation champion. This could be either a full time or part time role, but they need to allocate some of their time and effort into the creation of an innovation culture. In our experience these innovation champions need to have the following attributes:

  • Skilled in creativity – an ideas person who is comfortable in coming up with new ideas and challenging the status quo
  • An experienced facilitator – ideas come from various sources and groups of people therefore getting the best from a team via a facilitated session is a great skill to have
  • Has Project Management skills – knowledge of project management techniques is often useful as ultimately ideas need to be converted into projects and finally launched as new products or changes to services provided. This practical skill always helpful
  • Recognition – they need to be recognised for the total contribution they are making to the business in the role as an Innovation Champion. This is central to creating that all elusive innovation culture. The worst thing you can do is to ask someone to take on this role on top of their ‘day job’ without removing any of their current workload and then without any formal recognition.

Everyone in the organisation should see this role as a career development opportunity, an opportunity to develop skills of significant value to the business – pick your best people! To begin with it’s almost certain that innovation champions will need some training, probably from an outside source. In an example of an innovative culture a client of ours took a member of their software development team out of their day to day role in order to conduct an analysis of competitors in order to help identify potential new features that could be included in the next set of new products. Whilst he was enthusiastic, the starting point was to ensure that he had a good understanding of what competitor analysis entailed.

Virtual Teams

Since most organisations do not have full-time innovation teams, those involved in the process will work for different functions and maybe in different offices or time zones. Wherever they are located it is important that in order to create an innovation culture they are encouraged to network and work effectively as a ‘virtual team’. Nowadays, virtual working is pretty common but the jury is still out as to how effective it is in creating a team spirit or fostering great communication.

The Creative Culture

For example, a client company always used to kick off focused innovation workshops with a personal statement from a senior manager on how important the cause of innovation is to the business. Always. This set an example that people could follow and the workshops were always well attended and people felt they were of value.

‘Idea of the Month/Quarter’ schemes, with some sort of resultant reward or publicity also go a long way to generating that all elusive innovation culture.Simple, visible statements will have a dramatic impact across the business in terms of people’s recognition of the importance of innovation.

The way managers and directors respond to new ideas will either encourage or dissuade people from engaging in the process. You need to allow people to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Whilst you will always want to understand what went wrong if the project has to be abandoned you need to avoid creating a blame culture AT ALL COSTS! Establishing a creative or innovative culture is difficult to do but so, so easy to destroy. A careless statement or a harsh response to an idea will simply destroy all the hard work in building the desired culture of innovation.

A former CEO of GE (one of the world’s largest companies) once stated that they spent millions of dollars acquiring entrepreneurial companies specifically because of their innovative and creative cultures and then spent the next two years after every acquisition kicking the entrepreneurial spirit out of the companies with GE’s policies and procedures! 

Integrated Innovation Framework

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