After nearly 25 years of experience working in an innovative high-tech company, I’ve heard, experienced and talked about the critical elements needed to build an innovative culture numerous times. Innovation isn’t something that just happens; it’s a mindset and a business outcome that requires a commitment from both management and employees.
Here are the five keys to building an innovative culture.
- It all starts with risk. Risk aversion is the key reason employees don’t innovate. Employees who are afraid to take a risk and fear consequences of failure will maintain the status quo and resist change. Encouraging, rewarding and enabling risk-taking is essential for innovation to happen. Learn from mistakes and make those lessons impactful. Share internal stories of both success and failure. Showcase risk taking and the positive impact it has on the business. Celebrate employees who take risks and challenge the status quo.
- Leaders typically inhibit innovation. I haven’t yet met an engineer who doesn’t want to innovate. Effective leaders need to model an innovative mindset, thinking and behavior. If leaders don’t generate new ideas, challenge complacency and initiate change, then innovation stalls. If leaders don’t innovate, neither will their employees. Employees see what leaders do and they follow their behavior.
- Saying no is easier than saying yes. Saying yes means accepting new ideas. Saying no means I like it the way it is and I don’t want to do any additional work. Change takes time, effort and energy. Saying yes enables innovation. Managers who say yes are catalysts of innovation. Don’t think about all the reasons why something can’t be done differently — say yes and do it.
- Getting it done is often better than getting it right. Life is in beta. We are living in a time when the next version is just around the corner. There’s a 2.0 on the verge of being released. Leaders who wait for everything to be perfect before launching or executing are inhibiting innovation. Launch then learn. Iterate. Release the next version. Don’t wait for perfection; just get it done. There is time for continuous and disruptive innovation, but it has to start somewhere.
- Embedding innovation into the culture and consistently communicating about it is the only way to sustain it. Management, employees, customers, suppliers, everyone in the company ecosystem has to drive innovation and communicate about it. An organization culture is built through norms, behaviors, attitudes and values — ensure innovation is a common thread that runs throughout the company. Initiate it, encourage it, reward it and celebrate it.
Tamar Elkeles is the chief talent executive at Atlantic Bridge Capital.