People & Leadership

Creating a culture of innovation

What is innovation and how can a business utilise it? What does an innovation culture look like? Will creating an innovation culture require greater investment from HR? And can technology help make innovation happen?

Here are some top tips on creating a culture of innovation.

1. To be innovative, you need to support innovation

For businesses looking to their people to generate ideas to give them the competitive advantage, they must make sure their company fully support the ideas process. For an employee to show innovation they must first feel empowered to think differently within their role.

HR is central to driving empowerment initiatives in an organisation. Start by giving individuals greater accountability for what they do and provide regular opportunities for them to be involved in a wider range of work.

2. Cultivate the appropriate working environment

For innovation to thrive HR must take charge of creating the appropriate working environment. This means moving away from hierarchical structures which sees employees working in constrained roles, to more delayered structures that give people the option to work across departmental project teams.

Having a flatter structure will provide greater openings for cross-departmental collaboration and give people the flexibility and freedom they need to develop ideas. Encourage offsite working for both individuals and teams and consider the technologies needed to facilitate collaboration across the board.

3. Reward and recognition

It may sound obvious but people are more inclined to do what they are actually rewarded or motivated to do. If a business emphasis is cost-cutting and streamlining processes then people will not be inclined to develop new initiatives, whereas a business with an incentive scheme based around innovation will encourage creative thinking as part of day-to-day practice.

Create a clear reward and recognition policy to motivate your employees and recognise individuals or teams who have been involved in new projects – even if they’re deemed unsuccessful.

4. Lead by example

Although HR will drive empowerment initiatives, management also need to take accountability for energising the workforce. They must take an active role in supporting and sharing new ideas and align employees to a shared vision.

Ensure your leadership team promote business wide collaboration, listen to new ideas and actually embrace change with your organisation. Your leadership team need to champion experimentation through coaching and mentoring, and be prepared for smart risk taking, as with every opportunity, there is a chance of failure.

5. Removing obstacles

Many organisations struggle to develop an innovation ethos mostly due to cultural barriers or process-driven hurdles. Often a fear of being punished for failure, barriers preventing collaboration or a lack of appropriate infrastructure for learning and sharing can impede innovation.

HR must take responsibly to uncover obstacles and pioneer change across the board. Simple tools like an ideas board on your company intranet can help learning and sharing, whilst applying a non-judgemental approach to all ideas and actively embracing the risk of failure will help shift culture barriers.

6. Practical processes

It’s all very well encouraging lots of new ideas but what are people meant to do if they’ve had one. A clear process for capturing ideas and helping to turn them into practical solutions is vital – an innovation culture requires that people believe that their ideas will be listened to.

Implementing an online forum where employees can post new ideas provides a platform for developing concepts across an organisation. Line managers can also encourage the ideas process by holding regular discussion groups and brainstorming sessions.

7. Turning ideas into reality

Businesses need to provide the appropriate resources to ensure that good ideas have the chance of becoming innovative solutions. It is important to recognise the negative impact it may have if a lack of resource or organisational barriers mean ideas cannot be taken forward.

Having a flatter structure will make your organisation more adaptable to new projects, allowing for employees to attach themselves to different projects or work in secondments or job rotation roles. Allocating time away from the day job will encourage employees to develop ideas, whether working individually or in teams. Encourage secondments and job rotation

8. Time

It is important to recognise that cultural changes will not happen overnight and in particular nurturing innovation rather than an operational way of thinking will require dedicated time and resource.

An innovation culture can easily become the ‘latest HR fad’ if it is not managed with clear objectives or a consistent approach.

9. Measuring innovation

It can be challenging to measure exactly how innovation has impacted your business and not every new idea will have clear tangible results connected to it, but attaching measurements will make rewarding employees, board-level buy-in and strengthening the innovation culture easier.

Innovation metrics should be tied in to your business or departmental strategic goals and consider individual or collaboration successes, resources or delivery timescales. Remember it may be significant periods of time before clear financial results are seen but this doesn’t make the project any less successful.

10. Celebrate success

Celebrate! Innovative organisations are places where people enjoy their peers’ work. So make sure your business encourages teams and departments to regularly share their successes and milestones achieved. Celebrating and sharing these events, both large and small is part of creating the innovation culture.

Why not encourage managers to organise offsite days to give individuals and departments the opportunity to talk about and present their work to others across the business?