Savvy leaders shape the culture of their company. This fantastic article correctly identifies that leaders are the true culture innovators of their own organization.
Very often the values, norms, unconscious messages, and subtle behaviors of leaders and employees that form the core of a company’s culture end up limiting performance. These invisible forces are responsible for the fact that 70% of all organizational change efforts fail.
So what can be done? Design the interplay between the company’s explicit strategies with the ways people actually relate to one another and to the organization.
1. Be intentional with your innovation intent: Most corporate visions and missions lack actual vision and mission resulting in employees being confused and losing focus. Instead, frame the way you want to change the world, and make it about the customer. For example, the software company Intuit—the developer of Quicken, Quick Books, and TurboTax—makes its mission abundantly clear: “To improve our customers’ financial lives so profoundly they can’t imagine going back to the old way.”
2. Create a structure for unstructured time: Innovation needs time to develop. Iconic brands like 3M and Google give their employees about 10% “free time” to experiment with new ideas.
3. Step in, then step back: Give just enough structure and support to help people navigate uncertainty and tap into the creative process without stifling it.
4. Measure what’s meaningful: For many companies, coming up with ideas often isn’t the problem. The challenge is turning them into something real that delivers an impact. So figure out what to measure.
In its early days, Facebook measured how often its users returned to its site. Everything they did focused on blowing out this single metric.
5. Give “worthless” rewards: While recognizing success is critical, the most powerful and robust type of recognition—the kind that shapes organizational values—often occurs more informally. Several members of Colgate-Palmolive’s Global R&D group initiated a “recognition economy” by distributing symbolic wooden nickels to colleagues who had made noteworthy contributions to their projects.
6. Get symbolic: Symbols represent the underlying values of an organization, and they come in many forms–values statements, awards, success stories, posters in the hallways… you get the idea. Those who intentionally curate the innovation symbols of their companies essentially curate their innovation cultures. Intuit installed the kitchen table where Scott Cook dreamed up the company with his wife in its innovation center–and employees are encouraged to sit around it for idea jams.
In conclusion, when you’re cultivating innovation, you’re creating your company’s own ecosystem of sorts. Whatever you do, it should align with the values of your company and its goals.