Eight Practices to Fire Up Your Innovation Culture

March 18, 2020

In our recent Master Class on culture, Victor Assad and Arthur Liberian discuss how companies can fire up their innovation culture. Their practices and advice to teams fall into eight categories:

  1. Being purpose driven
  2. Encouraging executives to embrace innovation
  3. Unleashing creativity
  4. Investing in innovation
  5. Creating a clear process to move ideas forward
  6. Utilizing a knowledge management system for innovation
  7. Supporting talent and performance management systems that support innovation
  8. Deciding which ideas move forward

Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting & Managing Partner of InnovationOne. Liberian is a Senior Innovation Advisor at Planbox. This webcast will be based on the recent research of C. Brooke Dobhni, Ph.D. and The Conference Board. Visit Planbox’s website for the slide deck.

1. Being Purpose Driven

Victor Assad: What this really talks about is having a higher purpose for what the company does for humanity. … When you have a higher purpose. It’s easier for you to align employees to the strategies and goals of the organization. And when things get tough that intrinsic motivation will have people give you that extraordinary…effort. The other benefit is people get to love their jobs, because they love the final outcome for humanity. So having a purpose is very important. … Being purpose driven [impacts] your strategy, your vision, what you talk about…

2. Encouraging Executives to Embrace Innovation

Victor Assad: [Leadership treats] innovation as a strategic imperative, just like the financial plan, sales and marketing plan. They talk about it all the time, enthusiastically. They share the strategy. They deploy goals. They change their strategic planning, as I mentioned earlier, from something that is bureaucratic to something that’s more action oriented. … They share what works, what hasn’t worked with the company with everyone.

3. Unleashing Creativity

Victor Assad: To do that, you have to stop your hierarchy and some of the other boundaries and protectionism in your company…and that’s critical. The other key…is to empower decision making and risk taking down at that team level. [They have to be] aligned to the strategies of the organization and they have to meet milestones and goals that they set, but you have to have this empowerment.

Arthur Liberian: Companies that guide their teams towards a specific direction…achieve better results and actually help increase their team members’ activity and creativity around the process of innovation. … Defining specific focus areas leads to better results as companies can really establish budgets to focus on these projects and concepts, and ultimately line up resources and the right team members to establish the work that needs to be done on them as well. So when you focus on what are your key areas, you also define what those budget principles are, and who those subject matter experts and team members are as well.

4. Investing in Innovation

Victor Assad: You have to invest in the early stages of innovation, and also as you’re commercializing innovation… This company that we worked with, they did a pretty good job in investing in employee skills and organizational learning, not so much on the hard technology and the financial support and certainly the digital technology. But we’re finding as every passing year investing and learning how to implement digital technology successfully is critical for innovation. … Highly innovative companies…as opposed to the lower innovators invest in digital technology, like Innovation project management software. They not only invest in it more than low innovators, they figured out how to use it successfully.

5. Creating a Clear Process to Move Ideas Forward

Victor Assad: It’s very, very important to have a clear process for suggesting ideas, moving forward with the ideas, experimentation, and making decisions on them, and also commercializing them. … You have to have a clear process that everyone understands. If you survey them on the process, they can tell you how it works.

Arthur Liberian: So it’s really [about] understanding what’s happening outside and inside the organization, and aligning your innovation objectives with those strategic imperatives… [Then look] at how can we really capitalize on the right opportunities and define the right set of challenges within the organization to really start…developing the right solutions around that.

6. Utilizing a Knowledge Management System for Innovation

Victor Assad: Systems simple way to think about this [is] as an IT system for innovation… just like you have an enterprise wide system…for finance and supply chain, payroll and HR. … So it’s good to have an IT system or a digital software to keep track of the innovative ideas, maybe with a Wiki library so people can look up the experiment. What are the outcomes of past experiments and past ideas?

Arthur Liberian: So what we’ve also helped our customers establish is a Center of Excellence. … This program was essentially designed to help you manage the innovation process… [It] acts as a knowledge sharing base, and a repository of the collective [memories] of your company, what the process is for innovation amongst the different portfolio areas you’re focusing on, along with…when to use what and how to engage with your ecosystem. … [It] ultimately allows you to make better decisions and also look at what’s been done in the past, what succeeded and what we’ve learned from and then use that information to focus on future projects.

7. Supporting Talent and Performance Management Systems that Support Innovation

Victor Assad: At highly innovative companies, the hiring managers frequently know they have to find people with new and different skills than what they’ve had in the past, and people who love to be in a fast moving agile, innovative culture. In addition, they look for cognitive diversity. We’re used to visual diversity, and that’s important also, but we’re looking for people who think differently, have different experiences, maybe different professions that can come in and challenge the status quo. The performance appraisal system has changed…to reward more questioning, collaboration, and good teamwork and risk taking, all tied to the company’s strategies.

8. Deciding which Ideas Move Forward

Victor Assad: There’s great ideas, but either a decision is not made or there’s not enough risk taking, or the innovators can’t get the attention of the rest of the organization. … They don’t iterate well. They don’t coordinate well. … [Instead] you’ve got to emphasize speed or your innovation is going to die on the vine, or worse yet, your competition is going to beat you.