Every organization, of any size, has a culture. Whether it was defined at the start or it wasn’t; it has one. Congratulations if you took the time to define it at the start, because most founders don’t take the time to do it and find themselves defining one when they’ve been in business for many years.
By that time it’s harder to change culture. Let me repeat, it’s hard to change culture when you didn’t define it at the beginning. What do you do if you’re in this situation and want to change your culture?
First, ask yourself: what type of culture do I want to have and why? Whatever answer you come up with has to include innovation, which means bettering your people and your organization consistently.
Innovation isn’t the job of the few; it is the responsibility of the many
Innovation has become this sexy thing that only geniuses can do. It quickly becomes a conversation about technology, and that only techies are innovative. Not true. There are many functions of business that can and should be innovated; technology is just the one that gets the most attention.
There are organizations which have dedicated innovation teams; but I’d argue that that innovation is everyone’s responsibility. Accountants can do it. Human resources can do it. Kids can do it. And your organization can too. We have to push ourselves to improve our ability to do it, and that our organizations create cultures that support it.
With that said, to get the ball rolling you have to understand what drives it and what impedes it. What drives it? Curiosity, customer obsession, collaboration, adeptness to ambiguity and empowerment are key behaviors that drive innovation.
As a leader you have to enable these behaviors in your organization, and kill any obstacles that impede them. Most innovation cultures look alike when people can be curious and empowered. To have a culture that is innovation driven, you have to work towards having a “permission to fail” mindset.
To achieve this you have to become idea lead, open to new ideas from everywhere. This means that you, the leader, has to shut up, listen and encourage more; as opposed to dominating conversations, liking only your ideas and killing the ones you don’t like.
I’ve seen leaders fail culture change efforts precisely because they can’t change their own mindset of being the loudest person in the room. Your job is to be a catalyst, architect and enabler; not the Chief Idea Killer. As such, you have to celebrate killing the status quo; as opposed to protecting it.
You can’t mandate innovation
Another mistake I’ve seen leaders make when starting culture change is to mandate behaviors. First of all, mandating is dictatorship. And you can’t mandate innovation because mandates alone don’t change behavior. Leaders need to model the way, like by offering people permission to take risks, empathizing , and helping to remove roadblocks.
Remember, you don’t just want ideas. You want change. The worst thing you can do to a team, organization, is ask for ideas and then impede or block their progress just because you don’t agree with them or they’re too risky; those ideas will die quickly, along with team morale.
To create a culture of innovation in your organization:
- You have to unleash people, create the conditions for them to be great and remove obstacles. Ask yourself: Are we getting the best contribution from the most people? If not, why? What are we doing to impede them and how might we enable them?
- Default to accepting new ideas and don’t be quick to dismiss change.