Propagating an innovation culture for business growth

The Awaken Group conducts an annual Global Leadership and Innovation Survey (GLIS) of business leaders in the United States, Singapore and a few other countries. Its 2012-2013 survey explored the key challenges and priorities these leaders face, how they are responding to these challenges and emerging trends related to business growth strategies and organisational development.

Not surprisingly, “people”, “values” and “organisational culture” are among the most important and recurring themes that get significant attention from CEOs and other business leaders surveyed for this report. Continued success in business requires organisations to constantly innovate and become better; it is clear that this can be achieved only by building a culture of innovation that permeates through the organisation. So, what can organisations do to build such a culture? Here are some useful insights from the GLIS report.

Hiring and retaining the right leadership and managerial talent is one of the most critical success factors for an organisation, acknowledge the leaders surveyed. In fact, the top people-related priorities and strategies for these leaders were: hiring right managers and leaders (46%), creating a performance-oriented culture— eg. regular feedback, evaluation, incentives(39%); building a culture of embracing change, adapting with agility and managing ambiguity (38%); creating a culture of innovation and creativity (35%); grooming candidates internally for leadership positions (34%) and developing leaders at all levels within the company. The right culture, according to the survey participants, meant “leading with integrity, having an open and honest environment, hiring people who fit into your culture, and having clear values”.

Open and honest culture
Most leaders who participated in the survey espouse the value of an open and honest culture for long-term success of an organisation. Building trust from the very beginning is critical, says one of the respondents who also emphasises that integrity is one of the most important qualities that a business leader should possess. Integrity may require leaders to sacrifice short-term benefits for longer-term growth and sustainability.

Leaders can help build an open and honest culture by encouraging open dialogue and keeping an open mind, while being determined to be honest about any situation. Such an approach will help organisations to face their mistakes and address problems better. A leader who owns up to mistakes and takes responsibility for them will not only help the rest of the organisation to learn from it and avoid recurrence, but equally importantly will also prevent the malaise of “cover-ups” from afflicting the organisation.

Accepting failure
Ironic though it might seem, successful organisations often have a culture of accepting and embracing failure as a means to lead them in the right direction. Mature leaders tend to look for, respect and learn from people who have “failed” at something, because they believe in the value of lessons from such an experience.

“Embracing failures and mistakes, and recognizing their value, are closely linked with innovation. Leaders need to set the tone for their organizations, which includes setting an example for others to follow. This requires clearly identifying what you and your organization value most, and then making conscious effort to align your actions and decisions with those values. Only then can people understand what is required of them, what kind of people to hire, and what behaviors are acceptable.”

The innovation mindset
While more than three-fourths of the business leaders participating in the survey acknowledged the importance of innovations in product and service, these leaders also recognise that a culture of innovation is essential for constant innovation of products, services or business models. An “innovation culture” is one where “there is room to experiment; where failure is accepted and people are encouraged to learn from mistakes and quickly move on; where people have the tenacity to follow-through despite setbacks; and not becoming complacent even when you reach success. It is clear that innovation starts with thinking differently.” Innovation requires organisations to move away from the mindset of “don’t fix what is not broken” and move towards fully embracing the process of constant improvement.

Building such a culture may require organisations to be somewhat “loose” with structure, as too much structure is often the bane of innovation and creativity. According to one of the respondents, “to avoid getting into a cycle that diminishes innovation, organisations should de-emphasize hierarchy, embrace mistakes, and promote people who actually innovate. This this would require clarifying deliverables and having a positive attitude toward mistakes by developing a tolerance for mistakes. Managers need to get on the frontline to understand what is really going on; this leads to greater accountability.”

Another pre-requisite for an innovative culture is vision and tenacity. Merely good and creative ideas are not enough. Says one of the respondents, “Leaders and organizations need a vision for where they want to go and the tenacity to keep going when challenges arise. Innovation requires vision to see what the future needs are in any industry, and then combine it with risk-taking to turn that vision into action.” This requires ambitious people with a low need for reassurance as these people are not too personally attached to their ideas, which lets them move on to other ideas quickly if things don’t work out.

Alignment of people, goals and more

The GLIS Report highlights that “a culture of innovation is created when people, strategic goals, organization structure, incentives, and the right people in the right roles are all aligned.” Innovation is not simply about creating something new and different, but it includes:

- A clear vision of where you want to go
- Accepting failures and mistakes because you can learn from them
- Adapting and moving on quickly
- Creating an open environment that encourages people to share ideas

Innovative products, services, and ways of doing business are often a result of an innovative culture, so it is important to first build that culture you desire.

Download a copy of the GLIS Report here.

Contact us now to find out how Thought Perfect can help companies with leadership assessment as well as provide executive coaching to business leaders to maximise their personal and organisation’s potential.

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