Building a Culture of Innovation

“It isn’t the incompetent who destroy an organization. The incompetent never get in a position to destroy it. It is those who achieved something and want to rest upon their achievements who are forever clogging things up.”- F. M. Young

The times have changed – some would say for the better and others might disagree – whatever the verdict, things have changed. Drastically too! Rapid technological advancements, global companies, rise of new companies and shrinking resources – all these factors together have forced companies and businesses to alter their processes and strategies to keep up with these changes. The main reason for companies actively looking at building a culture of innovation is the dramatic rise of customer expectations and demands since they know that they are in a position to command whatever they want. Innovation cannot be achieved as a one-off – there must be a culture of innovation within a company if they hope to forge ahead of their competition. Every company would have a different system and mechanism of instilling a culture of innovation.

Even though the methods of inculcating a culture of innovation, the common thread for all companies is that to forge ahead it is imperative to ‘give birth’ to new ideas and find new and ingenious ways to put these ideas into action such that customers continually get exciting products and highly efficient service. Companies that build and support a culture of innovation would have processes, a mind-set and values that would be different from others who prefer to follow a traditional route. Innovation biased companies would continuously strive to find better ways of doing things.

What is innovation and why is it gaining such a stronghold in companies, not just in their products but also in customer service and in the way the company is managed? Innovation is that ‘something different and standout’, be in a company’s products, processes or even customer service. Innovation creates and adds value to all these aspects and implemented well and consistently, can potentially be the difference between gaining a competitive edge and getting lost in the milieu. This is probably the reason that creating a culture of innovation is swiftly gaining importance. The reason we are emphasizing on a culture of innovation is because innovation is not a fluke or something that a company decides to do when they want and stop when they don’t – it must go beyond to become imbibed in the organization such that everyone understands and follows it.

So what are the outward traits or signs that a company has a culture of innovation? Innovation as a concept is broad and subjective – it cannot be tied down to standards, metrics and viewpoints. Innovation goes beyond these – it is about creating an ‘atmosphere’ of looking at different ways to do things, values that exhibit attention to detail and a willingness to do more than ‘normal’ to achieve a cutting edge, the behaviour and unconscious signs that leaders give out but which express that each person is empowered to think creatively, modify their efforts and pull their energies in one given direction. Without these traits, innovation would always remain an unfulfilled dream.

The culture and values of a company are built or damaged by the employees. To instil any kind of mind-set and culture, there must be concurrence and support of all the employees. Hence the priority even before building a culture of innovation, is to ensure that everyone in the company believes in the concept, is suitably educated on the value of such a culture, create an atmosphere of openness, engage them by getting their feedback, provide relevant training and coaching and other such activities before expecting them to appreciate and embrace the change in work processes and adopt a culture of innovation or any other. It is only when the employees can see value for the company and themselves, will they learn to care and give their best to ensure that the new ideas are implemented and continue successfully.

The adage ‘change is the only constant’ is relevant in every aspect of life and those who are unable to move and adapt to change, will find it hard to survive. In the business environment, the dizzying pace of technological advancements, access to more and new data and the rise of competition makes it impossible for anyone to remain in the market if they don’t adapt and keep pace with these changes. The fact is that the changes mentioned have also given ‘birth’ to a ‘new breed’ of customers – sharper, more demanding, unwilling to settle for less – making it exceedingly hard for ‘non-compliant’ companies to survive. These customers want to see the culture of innovation both in the company’s offerings and the service provided. Keeping this market scenario in the fore, companies – irrespective of size and industry – are thinking innovation in order to be seen as relevant and competent.

– To start with companies must have an indefatigable and persistent focus on the customer. This translates to knowing the customer’s needs, the things they like and dislike, what would make them successful and what they would consider to be of no value. Knowing the customer is the primary way to move towards a culture of innovation – no point creating and building products that would be useless to a customer. Innovation is to be pointed at something – it needs direction and a motivating force.

– The other name for innovation is service and continuous improvement. It is only when companies know that whatever they do is nowhere close to perfection, will they continuously aim to find solutions, look at new ways and processes and other such open-minded and forward thinking approaches.

– To establish a culture of innovation, companies must work as one seamless whole. While each department would have their own roles and responsibilities, they must be able to collaborate and support each other in order to make a better workplace and also serve their end customers better. As the appreciation from customers for the efforts rise, everyone is encouraged and goaded on to do better and also able to perform their duties with more passion.

– The culture of innovation also gives rise to a healthy competitive spirit. Everyone strives to do better than before since only those who ‘push the envelope’ are recognized and rewarded. Each person would endeavour to make unique and implementable suggestions and would have a strong desire to put the competition down. With such high energy and drive, the behaviour would be ‘contagious’ and act as a catalyst for others to behave in the same manner and as a result the change being sought, is easily put in place. Such feelings of unity also give rise to unified teams and collaborative thought processes. We have mentioned earlier, that a happy and energized workforce is capable of achieving great heights for themselves and for the company.

– The role of management in trying to build a culture of innovation is to be good listeners. Keep their ears and minds open to what their customers – internal and external – are saying. There is sea of ideas and feedback and unless there is a ‘habit’ of listening, they would miss out on some very vital cues and invaluable suggestions. They must inculcate patience and a nurturing spirit if they expect to see any long term value. As they get better at ‘listening’ they would discover many more talents, skills, opportunities and ideas that hitherto may not have even been conceived. This would prove to be an indefatigable advantage for any company.

If your company firmly believes in the power of a culture of innovation, it would be imperative to first try and implement the points mentioned – however, the list is not exhaustive. Whatever be the methods applied, the culture of innovation would need to be constantly monitored and continually refreshed in order for it to stand the tests of time and the market.

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