A Culture of Innovation

A question which gets asked all the time is whether innovation should be part of everyone’s day job, or is it better handled by a central team? I can assure you, it is a question which will likely engender significant argument, because it is a question about whether the culture of an organisation is innovative or not.

Some argue that in a truly innovative organisation, there is a culture of support that ensures new things happen by themselves. In such organisations, the argument goes, you don’t need a central innovation team at all, because individual employees are empowered and motivated to make the kinds of changes an organisation needs to stay competitive.

To be honest with you, though, I have yet to see any organisation that has a culture that actually does this. Conversely, there are lots of organisations which ask their staff to be innovative and then put in processes and systems to help them make their dreams come alive.

Organisations who indicate they want an “innovation culture” quite often fail to take steps to turn their ideas into reality though. They believe that, somehow, if only they get more creative and motivated employees, they would get innovation for “free”.

One must remember that people have day jobs to which you are asking them to add innovation as an extra. It is extremely likely that given the choice of innovation or making sure they do the work for which they are actually paid, they will choose the latter.

This is one of the main issues you find in organisations, in fact. Managers expect innovation, and encourage it via employee engagement events, or internal suggestion boxes, or other devices which fail to provide any framework whatsoever for the new ideas to go forwards. Then, everyone wonders why their innovation efforts are failures.

A potential solution is to establish a central innovation team responsible for making new ideas go forward. Such an approach may not be suitable for all organisations, of course, because there can be substantial investments to make such a team effective. But one thing is very certain: the costs of not innovating at all are likely to be far higher than any up front investment in the first place.