Jul 14, 2023 13 min read
How to make Innovation an integral culture of an Organization
For ushering in organizational excellence, innovation is a very potent tool, though certainly not the only tool. To harness its true creative potential, organizations need to incorporate Innovation as an integral part of their culture. However, this is easier said than done. This requires a commitment of a special genre to involve a large number of people through training, motivation, visible encouragements like felicitations, etc. This has to be top-driven and carefully handled with a strong message to the target group so as to convince them that innovation matters, that there is no ‘bad suggestion’, and most importantly drive home the point that everyone can and needs to ideate, suggest, and innovate for organizational benefits. However, suggestions once coming into the system also need to be evaluated with utmost sensitivity and care so as not to discourage the suggester or the potent suggester subsequently. This article attempts to deliberate on how innovation can be incorporated as part of organizational culture.
How to make Innovation an integral culture of an Organization
The rather shrill, chilling assertion that “culture eats strategy for breakfast" would make each one of us sit up and think, probably with unease.
But first thing first! Why innovation is at all important? Well, if that is really a serious enough question, the answer is really simple: for a mature industry or an organization, this or the absence of it could be the real, tangible differentiator in either direction.
So the mute point of this article is what we need to do to usher in a culture of innovation in an organization or more importantly our organization. Is the existence of a formal structure like a Suggestion Scheme enough?
But what is ‘culture’ after all?
The definition/description that “culture is the consistent, observable patterns of behavior in an organization” has many takers. So let’s stick to it. It can be reminded that the grand old Aristotle had also averred similarly that “We are what we repeatedly do.”
However, before we attempt to explore how we can usher in an innovation culture, it would definitely be worthwhile to remind ourselves what holds us back from innovation. [But wait, is anyone whispering now about what defines ‘Innovation’? Ohh ..Very simple; something new vis-à-vis the routine that adds value. This would be good enough for the starters.]
· Quick decision-taking: Often we mix up a smart, quick decision-taker as innovative. This could be a trap. Often decisions are taken in haste without thinking through all aspects thereby compromising on the possibility of a more value-accretive, maybe innovative, outcome.
· Comfort zone: We are all aware of the various conveniences of this approach. It is popular, most people are happy with the least controversies/questions associated with this approach. It comes from the underlying assumption that since this way has worked in the past, it would work in the present and probably the future as well! But the real issue is whether the best outcome is possible through this approach if it can be called as one.
· Path of least resistance: Again an all-too-familiar choice! But often not killing an obstacle from the root and going around it in the pursuit of the path of least resistance could be to the detriment of the organizational well-being in the long term.
· Another thing: In the term 'another' is embedded a sense of dismissiveness. If this is the approach toward innovation, then pursuing this as a meaningful initiative would be nearly impossible.
Let's always remind ourselves that INNOVATION as an approach or incorporating this as an integral subset of organisational culture would require special care that demands long-term commitment, steadfast focus, passionate zeal, and massive efforts.
So what really can be tangibly done?
Honestly, much. Because when it comes to INNOVATION, the gap between aspiration and accomplishment seems to be as big as ever. So, how to address this? The solution lies in systemically building a culture for innovation.
Innovation culture is made up of practices that support and strengthen innovation as a significant aspect of progress and growth. It includes all structures, habits, processes, instructions, pursuits, and incentives that institutions implement to make innovation happen. It values, drives, and supports innovation as a prime initiative for success.
Let's now deliberate on some of the possible concrete steps that can be pursued in this regard.
Ø Innovation has to be top-driven: There can't be any debate about this. Unless the topmost hierarchy wants this to happen, any drive originating elsewhere would surely fizzle out.
Ø People need to be trained and energized for innovation: It's well proven by now that the ability to innovate is not a preserve of the ill-perceived 'genetically competent' few, as has been and is still made out now…that too often. Anybody and everybody have this innate ability to innovate. All that's needed in this regard is to train and energize a massive number of people in this area with a special focus on its limitless possibilities. And this is to be done repeatedly for palpable reinforcements to make it a movement....to impact the mindset.... to insert it in the 'genes' of the organization.
Ø To encourage employees to think 'out-of-the-box' and create a structure/outlet to capture the stream of ideas: Team members are to be encouraged to think unconventionally. They are to be convinced that their ideas matter to the organization genuinely and that there is no 'bad idea' as such and hence no idea should be dumped before careful analysis from all possible perspectives.
It is critically important to create a robust platform to 'capture' all these ideas, to evaluate for implementation ability and actual implementation (obviously the most vital part). The value-adding suggestions also need to be encouraged through the handsome and visible felicitation of the suggester(s) to usher in a cascading effect. A formal Suggestion Scheme is a very common tool and a potent one in this regard. However, this is only as good as it is administered; neither better, nor worse.
A Suggestion Scheme, handled with an appropriate mixture of mind and heart would do wonders in making innovation culture firmly resilient in the organization. In fact, this might make innovation a pan-organisation movement in the most powerful sense of the term. On the other hand, a Suggestion Scheme, just maintained as a showpiece that operates only for the sake of it with occasional spurts of activisms and without the effort to get to the pulse of the idea/suggestion is a sure shot tool to kill any scarce innovation streaks that might be there within.
So the 'prescription' here is to be persevering with at least those suggestions that are elaborate and put up with obvious efforts but may not have many takers immediately. What can be done with these? At least give the suggester of a patient hearing through personal invitation to place the case in front of the evaluators. The challenge for the coordinator here would be to persuade both the suggester and the evaluators to broaden their own horizons through objective, not passionate or biased, interactions among themselves.
This is definitely a tough ask but richly worth the investment in terms of time and effort that would be put in by all concerned. Such a suggestion 'accepted' after this type of process would convince the suggester about the seriousness of the organization in this matter, about the strongly institutionalized innovation-culture prevailing and the word would spread thick and fast to usher in a virtuous cycle. On the other hand also, if the suggestion isn't considered acceptable after such a detailed process, the suggester can be thanked for the efforts put in for generating the suggestion and made convinced about the reasons for this. Through this process, a mature suggester won't feel bad. In short, this process would be a win-win proposition.
In today's world, we can't solve many of the contemporary problems with old solutions. These are to be confronted through the wide-angled lenses of innovation. Some positive symptoms are obvious. Innovation unleashes energy, confidence, good vibes, sense of pride; helps in outwitting competition; to repeat, it adds tangible value to an organization/business.
Of course, innovation isn't the only tool to create value. There are other well-known means like productivity enhancement, re-engineering, Six Sigma, etc in this regard.
But innovation can be done more sustainably, at a predefined pace, involving more willing personnel, and seamlessly. We have already adopted it as one of our core values. It's now time to take it to the next level and insert it as an integral and definitive part of our culture.
Let's just do it and be excited witness to our organization's next phase of excellence and growth.
Leave your thought here
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