What an Innovative Culture Looks Like

An innovative corporate culture is one that supports the creation of new ideas and the implementation of those ideas.  Leaders need to help employees see innovation in the right light.  The most innovative companies do the following:

1.  See innovation as a competency:  Innovation is a skill, not a gift.  It can be learned by anyone and applied systematic.  Innovative companies treat it as just another core skill by:

  • Creating a well-defined set of innovation competencies and embedding them into every employee’s competency model along with other required behaviors such as ethics and leadership.
  • Conducting regular training courses in creativity methods and innovation management.
  • Staffing internal innovation experts and coaches who work with teams to help guide their innovation efforts and facilitate their success.
  • Not rewarding employees for innovation, but rather expecting it as part of the value system

2.  See innovation as a competitive weapon: Innovative companies use innovation to differentiate themselves by:

  • Conducting regular idea generation workshops within business units
  • Deploying innovation methods within planning and strategy initiatives
  • Innovating from the core competencies of the firm as the starting point
  • Using innovation methods as part of mergers and acquisitions to explore and analyze growth potential of the target

3.  See innovation as a process:  Innovative companies don’t treat innovation as special, unique activity. They see it instead as an ongoing “stream of effort” along with quality, leadership, productivity, and other imperatives.  They do this by:

  • Developing an idea management and tracking capability
  • Conducting “clearinghouse” workshops to leverage innovation across business units
  • Sourcing innovation consultants that are well matched to the specific task (eg: ideation).
  • Linking innovation to other key processes including financial, commercial, and technical.

4.  See innovation as both systematic and opportunistic:  The most innovative companies flex between different styles of creating opportunity by:

  • Sponsoring internal innovation “subversives” who work around the system to champion new ideas and drive them through execution
  • Being “open” to ideas from outside sources to make non-obvious connections to internal projects.
  • Experimenting with new concepts – “making a little, selling a little, and learning a lot” – like P&G.
  • Collaborating with like-minded companies in non-competing industries to source new ideas and trends.

To read more about both sides of this issue, I recommend two articles just released.  Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer write about “How leaders kill meaning at work.”  You can find this in McKinsey Quarterly, January 2012.  Ken Kahn and his colleagues write about “An Examination of New Product Development Best Practices,” in the March 2012 edition of Journal of Product Innovation Management.