How to Create a Workplace Culture of Constant Innovation
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How to Create a Culture of Constant Innovation

Innovation is crucial to the continuing success of any organisation, and is arguably the most critical component of any start-up’s success is its ability to innovate and disrupt its industry to some extent. Competing against peers as well as larger, better established businesses requires new and innovative solutions. In a competitive market, businesses need to constantly find ways to operate more efficiently, to produce better products, and to better anticipate rivals.

Some businesses are built on a single disruptive idea, while others incorporate a thousand small improvements to eventually emerge as industry leaders. In order to make a place for themselves in their industry, business leaders need to find a way to nurture and grow the spark of innovation in their own teams.

Don’t be distracted by “start-up culture”

Branding your business as a hub for innovation and disruption can have a number of benefits, but it’s important not to confuse marketing with company culture. Special innovation spaces, open plan offices, and flat hierarchies have relatively little to do with actually building a disruptive and innovative company culture. Rather, these are features designed to offer the appearance of progressiveness and innovation to potential investors. Developing a business in which everyone is working to create something new and better, and contributing their best ideas to that end, is about creating an innovative company culture.

Listen for small suggestions

Business owners love big, brilliant ideas that promise to transform entire industries the way that many of our favourite start-ups have. For great examples of innovative company cultures, though, it’s not always best to look at new and wildly successful start-ups. Rather, businesses that have managed to remain at the forefront of their industries for decades have a lot to teach us. For example, Toyota is famous for incorporating low-level worker suggestions into their process improvement. They still implement an average of 9 improvements resulting from this program every year, and their success, both in the 20th century and since, is largely built on these small innovations.

Nobody understands a product, a component of a product, a process, or a service as well as the person that spends 8 hours of every workday looking at it. Workers know exactly which processes are less efficient than they could be, and product issues that would never occur to a manager might be completely obvious to them. These changes can then build on each other, allowing for constant and long term improvement.

Set Concrete Goals and Experiment

While Toyota may have found success with a general mandate to offer suggestions on improving their processes, businesses stand to benefit greatly by setting specific goals. Being innovative as a general goal sounds nice, but it’s too abstract for most people to deal with while attempting to manage their normal responsibilities. People need something to build toward, or a problem to solve.

Once they have this, they can begin to brainstorm and experiment to find new and innovative ways to achieve it. As a part of this, it’s also important to encourage experimentation, to learn from failures rather than to fear or even to penalise them.

Work as a team and promote collaboration

For business owners, it’s inspirational to consider lone innovators like Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. In terms of building an innovative company however, these actually aren’t very helpful. Building an innovative company culture is about getting everyone engaged toward achieving a goal, and that means building collaboration.

Limit individual competition

In many businesses, individual team members won’t share information or ideas, fearing that a co-worker, or even a manager, will steal and personally benefit from their work. Not only does this prevent the implementation of innovative ideas, it keeps workers from workshopping and improving each other’s ideas. A good way to address this is to reward entire teams, rather than individuals, for developing a great idea. This way, claiming credit individually isn’t important anymore, and people can more comfortably work together knowing that they’ll all benefit.

Build a leadership team dedicated to progress

Even businesses that are structurally built to effectively encourage innovation might run into trouble when it comes to their own leadership team. Middle managers are often judged by their ability to meet core responsibilities, which often don’t include innovation-related goals so much as simply facilitating day-to-day operations. These leaders, then, are likely to see time spent on experimentation and innovation as wasted, or even counterproductive to meeting their own goals. These attitudes can have an enormous chilling effect on innovation in a business.

To deal with this, it’s important to ensure that innovation is in everyone’s interest, and that the time spent on it doesn’t reflect poorly on managers. To create a culture of innovation, progress and change need to be welcome at every level. When everyone who facilitates and brings about positive change benefits from that change, innovation becomes a natural pursuit for everyone.

 

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