For a large organisation, culture change is incredibly difficult. As such, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that we constantly hear managers struggle to make the transition towards a more innovative culture.

While we didn’t set out to create a tool for culture change, it turns out that one of the key benefits many of our customers have gotten from using our software is that it has helped shape their company culture in a more innovative direction.

For some, that was the plan from the get-go, but for many that has been an unexpected benefit, just like it was for us when we first started out. Given that innovation culture is such an important factor for getting innovation right, this is a topic worth exploring in more detail.

In this article, we’ll take a brief look at how company culture can be shaped, and how the use of practical tools, such as  innovation management software can help make that happen.

What is an innovative culture actually like?

To understand the phenomenon, we need to first take a step back and look at what an innovative company culture looks like.

Take a look at the image below. Which one of these do you think is the more innovative company, the one on the left or the one on the right?

At first glance, most would say the one on the right. There’s a relaxed space with some coffee, colourful sofas, a trendy brick wall, and tons of Post-Its, whereas the one on the left is just a horrible industrial scale cubicle farm.

Well, that’s not correct. The image on the right is just a generic stock photo, and the one on the left is from SpaceX’s offices. If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll probably agree that they are one of the most innovative companies on Earth.

What’s the takeaway? There’s a lot more to company culture than meets the eye. As Michael Watkins has l put it so well: “culture is the consistent, observable patterns of behaviour in an organisation.” It’s not about having fancy offices with no rules limiting what you can do.

“Culture is the consistent, observable patterns of behaviour in an organisation.”

  • Michael D. Watkins

An innovative company culture is simply the engine that drives the organisation to constantly get better, drive progress, and innovate. 

It consists of countless factors that both define the identity and shared beliefs of the organisation, but even more importantly, the shared behaviours of people within it, as well as the processes and practices being used.

How can company culture be shaped?

Now that we understand what a culture is, shaping it is pretty straightforward. We simply have to address all of the factors covered in the Be-Do matrix above and shape each of them in a way that helps the organisation drive progress and innovation.

That’s of course, easier said than done.

Most leaders that are looking to transform their culture usually get all or at least most of the sections from the Be-axis right. They redefine the mission and values of the organisation, communicate the importance of innovation, and aim to create a new identity as an innovator.

“Most leaders get the Be-axis right, but fail to implement the things on the Do-axis, or in other words, to make practical changes to the day-to-day processes and practices of the organisation.”

That’s all good and well, but where most fail is the hard part: changing how the organisation is structured, how it’s being run, how people are being rewarded, and how they behave. Doing that won’t happen overnight, and it will require leaders to make many difficult and painful decisions.

As such, leaders should approach the problem pragmatically. 

They need to approach it top-down by really working on the factors on the Be-axis and some of the bigger picture processes used within the organisation, for example related to hiring, firing, and rewarding practices. At the same time, leaders do also need to empower people to gradually shape it bottom-up. This will not only reinforce the practices, but in the end, it’s the actions on the frontline that speak louder than the words of management.

How can an innovation management software help with that?

That brings us to the main topic of the day. There are a few key reasons for many of our customers having found our software to be so helpful in the process of transforming their culture, which we’ll cover next.

It’s an easy to implement, practical first step

Let’s say that you’ve now refined the values of the organisation and want to move on to the more practical side of things. Where do you begin?

Do you start changing your budgeting process, or your hiring practices? For most large organisations, both of those areas do require changes, but they’re challenging to implement, and the impact of those actions won’t be visible to everyone for a long time.

Cultural change requires you to create a movement that builds momentum, which means that you will need to take immediate action to not only sustain that momentum, but to grow it.

Introducing a new innovation campaign where you ask everyone in the organisation to point out problems and challenges that prevent them from making progress or innovation, is a great first step. It shows that you really are serious about making change a reality, and the input will be extremely valuable for creating a roadmap for the rest of your culture transformation work. 

If you’re interested in the practicalities of how to do that, I’d recommend this guide we’ve previously written.

It helps you engage and empower everyone within the organisation

That brings us nicely to our next point. By engaging everyone within the organisation to come up with ways to make it more innovative, you are empowering people to make a change.

This is incredibly important for the success of your culture change efforts. In our experience, purely top-down culture change efforts that don’t really consider the realities of people on the frontlines, and engage with them, usually fail. If people from across the organisation don’t see these initiatives as their own, or even as relatable, it’s just going to be an uphill battle.

Running a single organisation-wide innovation campaign obviously isn’t enough to achieve that, but it’s a good first step.

To build on that momentum, you will need to find the right “champions” throughout your organisation. These are people that others in your organisation respect and listen to. You should work hard to first convince each of them to join the movement and then support them in making the necessary changes within their respective spheres of influence.

It helps you institutionalise change.

That brings us to our third point.

As mentioned, it’s often a good idea to kickstart the transformation with centrally run, once-off, innovation campaigns and transformation projects, but you will soon run into challenges with this method.

If innovation and change remain concentrated within a centralised function, this function can ironically become a bottleneck that slows down and prevents innovation from happening. Eventually, you will need to decentralise to scale your results from innovation.

This is also critical for shaping a more innovative company culture. 

When employees throughout the organisation aren’t asked to, or sometimes even allowed to innovate, odds are they won’t do so. And, if most people within your organisation don’t do anything innovation related, they won’t see it as a part of their, or the organisation’s identity, and you’re again back to square one.

So, to be able to create an innovative culture, you will need to find ways to make innovation something that everyone is encouraged and empowered to pursue, and that isn’t just a once-off effort but a continuous priority.

“To be able to create an innovative culture, you will need to find ways to make innovation something that everyone is encouraged and empowered to pursue, and that isn’t just a once-off effort but a continuous priority.”

However, practices like Google’s 20% time probably aren’t feasible for most organisations as their businesses obviously don’t generate as much revenue with as little input as Google’s ad business.

This is where we come back to having the right software with innovation champions spread throughout the organisation. 

A great, very practical, affordable, and effective way to achieve the goal of encouraging and empowering everyone to innovate, is to run continuous innovation processes across the organisation where everyone is asked and expected to actively participate in the ones that affect them.

For example, each of your business units and support functions could have their own continuous innovation processes for the more incremental innovation, along with one or more additional processes for bigger, more disruptive or radical ideas. The champions you’ve recruited before will now play an important role in highlighting the importance of active participation and in driving the progress of the collected ideas.

This is what our most successful customers do. They have dozens, in a few cases even hundreds, of simultaneous, innovation processes going on where hundreds of innovative ideas get implemented every month. 

By decentralising and dividing the responsibilities, they can drive much more progress and institutionalise change. And, as change, improvement, and innovation become the new normal for people across the organisation, they’ve managed to change the culture to be more innovative.

Conclusion

An innovative company culture isn’t something you necessarily “have”, it’s something you pursue by continuously making deliberate decisions that help you make more progress, move faster, and make more innovation happen.

Most of the barriers for that will come from processes and organisational structures, as well as people, and no software will obviously help you fix those issues.

However, flexible and scalable innovation management software is one of the key enablers that help you create a structured approach and start the transition towards making innovation a part of everyone’s day-to-day job within your organisation. 

It can also support the transformation by providing you with a lot of actionable data and insights in how your innovation transformation is progressing in different parts of the organisation. This again helps you focus your efforts on removing bottlenecks for innovation and for your cultural transformation.

If you’re interested in shaping your culture to be more innovative, we’ve now partnered with the Future Shapers to provide readers with an exclusive, limited-time offer that will help you do just that. You’ll get free access to our online innovation coaching program, a complimentary workshop to help you get started, and a lifetime discount on Viima’s paid plans. Claim the offer today by signing up for the Free Viima Basic plan.

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