How to Foster Innovation Culture in the Office

Innovation Culture Has 5 Significant Elements

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Are you chasing all things new and exciting in your business? If you’re not happy with the same old methods and products that you’ve created for 50 years, what you want to create is an office with an innovation culture.

What Is an Innovation Culture?

In a company with an innovation culture, the main goal is to foster new ideas and implement them, and it’s crucial that this encouragement cuts across all divisions and departments. It does no good to say, “We’re innovative in the lab,” but then have a finance and operations department that refuses to fund new research and the production of innovative products. 

To foster an innovation culture in your office, you’ll need a place where the bosses allow creativity. That may seem basic, but how often do you say, “No, that idea won’t work,” when an employee presents you with a new idea?

Elements of an Innovation Culture 

Theorists Carl Johansson Alm and Erick Johnsson define innovation culture as “the process of creating something new that has significant value to an individual, a group, an organization, an industry, or a society.” They argue that innovation culture is comprised of five dimensions:

  1. Innovation readiness
  2. Creativity and entrepreneurship
  3. Organizational learning
  4. Market orientation
  5. Motivation and relations

Fostering the Ability to Innovate 

To foster innovation readiness, it’s important to hire people who are creative and dedicated to innovation. You may be able to change your current culture, but you may have to look to the outside and bring in people with new ideas.

Fostering the Willingness to Innovate 

The willingness to innovate needs to come from within the employees in an environment provided by the organization that supports a culture of innovation. Something as small as an Idea Box—where employees can submit thoughts and ideas—can demonstrate a willingness to innovate.

Additionally, you want to allow innovation in all aspects of the organization—not just your core business. If you say, “We are leaders in the innovation of product X,” but then reject every employee’s attempt to make your performance appraisals function better, you lack the willingness to innovate. 

You need to note that there is some risk involved in innovation. Not all innovative ideas are good ideas, and not every investment in innovation will pay off. But, without the willingness to take these risks, you will not foster a culture of innovation. 

What Is Your Organization’s Innovation Potential? 

An innovation culture provides the space for change to occur in your organization. If you say, “We want innovation,” but then overload your employees with tedious or repetitive work, they won’t have time to create new concepts. If you reject their new ideas or if you don’t give people the time they need to expand upon their ideas, your business lacks the potential to innovate aspects of culture.

Innovation potential also requires communication between and among departments. You may set up cross-functional teams and provide opportunities for people to work together in new ways, as opposed to silos which cripple an innovation culture

What an Innovation Culture Looks Like 

You probably want to be part of an innovative culture—many employees do—but many businesses find that it is challenging to sustain innovation. Gary P. Pisano, the senior associate dean of faculty development at Harvard Business School, looked into this and found there are distinct reasons for failure. He discovered that one of the key ingredients for innovation is “a high tolerance for failure but no tolerance for incompetence.” 

Sometimes people confuse failure with incompetence, but they are two different things. Innovative and brilliant people can fail. Pisano notes that, while exploring risky ideas that ultimately fail is fine, mediocre technical skills, bad work habits, and poor management are not.

Innovation is hard, and you need strong people to carry it out. Failure comes with innovation, but sloppiness isn’t an excuse. 

How to Build an Innovation Culture 

People can successfully innovate in this type of environment, but it isn’t easy. Innovation isn’t sitting in a big leather chair, throwing ideas around. That may be part of innovation, but it’s not enough to carry an idea through. Hard and careful work are necessary for innovation to succeed. Ideas are just that—ideas—until employees have had the opportunity to flesh them out, weigh their pros and cons, and test and verify their application.

Bottom Line

This whole process is an investment—and often a costly one. This goes back to the willingness to innovate. Innovation is not free. But, if you want to foster a culture of innovation, get to work, get the right people on board, and give them space and the environment they need to succeed in innovation.