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Making Business Innovation More Rewarding

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…. 8 Ways To Transform Your Company’s Innovation Culture


With the world changing rapidly, most corporate executives realize that beyond cost-cutting and operational efficiency, companies must also invest in developing their innovation capabilities with new services and products to improve business outcomes. Initially the emphasis was often to look for easy solutions, refine a process, or low hanging fruit with a focus on training and improving the capabilities of product teams. Because of this, there are now many organizations offering training in design thinking, lean startup and agile product development. While these grassroots movements are well and good, it’s dawning on many executives that more is needed to become a more entrepreneurial organization – to increase the rewards from innovation.

The rhythms and ways of doing innovation is different from the rhythms and ways of working in most large companies. While many organizations are building up their innovation capabilities, the environment and culture within which they work typically stifle innovation initiatives – especially those that have potential to be disruptive. As such, every company must build an innovation ecosystem; which is a repeatable and scalable process for turning creative ideas into profitable business models. While doing and monetizing innovation is challenging, risk increases when an organization is changing slower than competitors or others that could impact their industry.

Because of this transformation must be approached in steps that allow for learning and iteration to increase the rewards from innovation –

1. Focus On Why :  An organization cannot move forward without new direction and clarity as to the reasons why change is necessary. Transformation to become a more entrepreneurial and innovative company is a process that requires vision with organizational commitment and follow up to push new initiatives through. As such, it’s important Executives, Influencers and Thought Leaders identify specific goals, milestones, strategy, metrics, etc. to improve business outcomes. In conjunction with this , there is a need to highlight how the world and their industry is changing with important trends that are affecting their markets and how the plan to move forward. This is critically important to establishing an innovation culture.

2. Begin With Discovery :  There are a lot of great innovation frameworks in the world (ie: Running Lean, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Customer Development). There are also various case studies of companies that do innovation really well (ie: 3M, Amazon, Apple, Intuit, etc.). However, we must assess the allure of implementing standard frameworks or what has worked in other organizations within our company since most standard frameworks break when facing different variables, additional complexity, etc.. As such, we have to begin with discovery – What are the unique challenges within our company ? What has worked successfully before ? What initiatives have failed and why did they fail ? Where are the roadblocks and resistance to innovation ? Such discovery work will also uncover challenges as well as key allies and champions that we will need to be successful at business innovation.

3. Get Executive Sponsorship :  With many forms of innovation and that change can emerge from anywhere, it’s critical to have Executive buy-in and commitment to established and evolve an innovation culture. This is because a company’s culture is determined by what its leaders reward, celebrate and punish. An example of innovation culture is that companies celebrate failure – as well as successes. As such, Executives need to recognize the value of innovation and becomes a champion of change.

4. Find Allies :  In addition to Executive buy-in there is a need to engage with others who would benefit from Innovation. While Executives set the overall strategic direction of the company, the people that actually run the company day-to-day are the Middle Management and various key Associates. In addition, identify and engage with forward thinking individuals – both inside the company and externally. This is important since even if you get C-Level support, you are still going to need help from others to implement projects.

5. Work With Early Adopters :  There is a resourcefulness and impatient energy among innovators and entrepreneurs that can be admirable. However, these attributes can trigger issues when we try to transform a large organization. To effect change, identify early adopters in the business units that will realize significant benefits from Innovation and work with them. Within every company there are pockets of people who ” get it “. They understand how the world is changing and what needs to be done. Working with early adopters is an opportunity for them to become more entrepreneurial and to favorably impact the business – which can do wonders for their career advancement, recognition and additional compensation. Importantly collaborating with early adopters should minimize resistance in the early stages of change and accelerate realizing important benefits to the business. Discovery helps find early adopters. And as we succeed with early adopters, other people become more interested and supportive of innovation initiatives.

6. Get An Early Win :  In addition to ‘ Talking the Talk ’, it’s critically important to ‘ Walk the Talk ’ – to plan and execute to get results. Working with early adopters and Executives helps with this along with selecting a high profile and important project and demonstrate that lean innovation and design thinking methods work. And that we can monetize innovation to document the early win with data and begin celebrating it widely within the company. Such an early win creates goodwill and fast tracks change to become a more forward looking organization with a better understanding of the risk and rewards associated with Innovation.

7. Be Tough On Principles, But Loose on Tactics :  Principles trump tactics. Rather than rigidly focus on the tactics of an innovation initiative, keep a laser focus on the principles that underlie lean innovation and why transformation is necessary. As much as we plan, the organization will also be changing at its own pace; and sometimes in different directions. To paraphrase Steve Blank, our transformation plans will never survive first contact with the organization. As such, we have to be prepared to be responsive; tough on principles but flexible on our tactics.

8. Know How to Win People’s Hearts And Minds :  As much as we may feel we are on the right path with our ideas for transforming our company, we have to recognize that change is challenging for many people. So while becoming a more innovative organization is critically important to increase relevance and revenue, it is frequently a battle for the hearts and minds of stakeholders. Getting buy-in from colleagues will result in a culture change that sticks. In addition, it helps to reach out to those resisting change to find common ground.

Recognizing these insights is important since transforming to become a more innovative organization is typically very challenging. It is not for the faint-hearted since it’s often 2 steps forward and 1 step back, or 1 step forward and 2 steps back ! But when done well, the results are truly rewarding – especially when you can monetize new business capabilities and realize more value from innovations with existing products and services. With windows of opportunity opening and closing quicker and the emergence of digital platforms that is impacting industries, organizations either drive change for benefit – or are victimized by a paradigm shift if they fall behind. Because of this, it’s a huge incentive to get better at Business Innovation since those doing the driving have opportunities and those struggling with change get the leftovers.

Oct 24, 2017 – CAIL – from Innovation industry commentary

…. based on the book The Corporate Startup by Tendayi Viki – on how a large company can build an ecosystem to innovate like a startup

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