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Three key elements to building an innovative culture

Dec 11, 2019


You can't be an innovative organisation without fostering an innovative culture. Katie Scott outlines three key elements needed to create the right ecosystem of innovation. 

In the current climate of political uncertainty, changing market demands, skills shortage and a changing workforce, businesses of all sizes are seeking to maintain competitiveness, evolve and grow, while managing their day-to-day business demands.

‘Innovation’ has become the mantra for many, and while this is simply a process of focused change, putting creative ideas into effective use to improve products, services and business processes, many organisations fail to realise this opportunity. This is largely due to fear of failure, resistance to change, aversion to risk-taking and a lack of support for creating a culture of innovation.

Innovative culture

It is not as simple as asking employees to contribute more innovative ideas, creating an innovation strategy or deploying new systems. In order to embrace innovation, it is necessary to check your organisation’s ecosystem is ready. Moreover, you must be prepared that, as with any cultural change, it will not happen overnight.

Peter Drucker states, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”. While we cannot argue with that, it is easier said than done, particularly if you are a large organisation that has a long history of adding new initiative after new initiative!

Therefore, how can you begin to build a culture of innovation and move away from the ‘that’s the way we always do it’ attitude? There are three key areas where organisations can focus to build their innovation culture:

Create a clear strategic rationale for innovation 

In order to get employee buy-in, it is important to understand where you are now and determine where you want to be in the future. Understanding your current areas of strength and weakness and getting a sense of staff appetite for innovation can help you to focus on key areas and identify the potential enablers or blockers.

Lead by example

To foster and fuel innovation at the individual and team level, it needs to be visibly embraced and actioned by leadership. Leadership is responsible for creating and aligning teams around a culture that is open, collaborative and focused on continuous improvement. Appreciate that innovation will require new behaviours, skills and knowledge, so support your people by giving them the confidence, training and resources they need to embrace innovation at all levels.

Empower your people

Decision-makers at the top are busy running the business, so they should expect the teams below to help drive innovation. Employees at all levels can see opportunities in their own areas that others will miss. Staff should be given permission and feel empowered to challenge the norm and the confidence to fail, learn and improve within clearly defined parameters.

In these uncertain times, taking a risk feels counter-intuitive. However, to quote Bene Brown, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Instead of fearing our vulnerability, let’s get comfortable with failing fast, learning and improving, in order to innovate, thrive and ultimately survive.

Katie Scott is a Manager of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton NI.