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Creating a Culture of Innovation: Focus on These 3 Factors

Creating a Culture of Innovation: Focus on These 3 Factors

First, Understand the Difference Between Innovation vs. Creativity

When we think of innovation, we think of imaginative and original creations that solve problems and offer solutions. In truth, while creativity is at the root of innovation, creativity doesn’t guarantee innovation.

And what is the difference between creativity and innovation, anyway?

Think of it this way: Creativity is the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, while innovation is the successful implementation of creative ideas.

If you’ve been part of a creative or innovative team, it wasn’t just the specific people and their skillsets that contributed to your success. Likely, you were working within an organizational framework that created a culture of innovation. As a result, the work was interesting and challenging, your manager was confident in the team, new ideas were encouraged, and roadblocks weren’t always in your way.

These 3 factors — management practices that support a culture of innovation, organizational motivation and encouragement, and resourcing — come together to create a culture of innovation. You probably know this from your own experience.

3 Factors for Creating a Culture of Innovation & Creativity

To help organizations understand and evaluate whether they have the type of work environment that will produce more innovative results, we have conducted extensive research. Our findings suggest 3 areas of essential importance for fostering a culture of innovation in the workplace, and within each of the 3 areas, specific factors support innovation and creativity:

1. Management Practices That Support Creating a Culture of Innovation.

As with many strategic activities, creating a culture of innovation comes down to managerial leadership.

Specific actions and practices that impact a culture of innovation include allowing freedom and autonomy in the practice of work, providing challenging work, specifying clear strategic goals, and forming work teams comprised of individuals with diverse skills and perspectives. It also helps to have leaders who are careful not to subconsciously sabotage innovation.

Consider which of these factors are part of your work environment:

  • Freedom: People need the autonomy to determine the optimal way to carry out their tasks. This gives them a sense of control over their work and a feeling of responsibility for the final product (or process).
  • Challenging Work: Challenging assignments give employees an opportunity to work hard and feel challenged — and to feel that their work is important and valuable. Employees need to understand why their work contributes to the organization’s competitive advantage and long-term sustainability.
  • Managerial Encouragement: A boss should set and communicate clear innovation goals that are ambitious, yet achievable. He or she should serve as a good work model, support the workgroup, value individual contributions, and exude confidence in the team. Support employees when they speak up, take risks, and try new things.
  • Support for Teamwork: Because innovation is a team effort, people need to work on a team where diverse skill sets are represented. Team members should communicate well and remain open to new ideas, constructively challenge each other’s work, trust and help each other, and feel committed to the work they’re doing.

2. Organizational Motivation and Encouragement of Innovation.

What’s the basic orientation of the organization toward innovation? How would you rate your culture of innovation in terms of organizational encouragement — as well as a lack of organizational impediments? Are innovative mindsets encouraged? Is the focus on developing the game-changing disruptions, or on improvements over time through continuous innovation? Creating a culture of innovation requires collaboration and communication across silos.

  • Organizational Encouragement: This is a culture that encourages creativity through the fair, constructive judgment of ideas, reward and recognition for creative work, mechanisms for developing new ideas, and an active flow of ideas and a shared vision.
  • Lack of Organizational Impediments: A culture of innovation doesn’t impede creativity through internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, avoidance of risk, or an overemphasis on the status quo.

Having an organizational culture that promotes psychological safety at work is critical, too.

3. Resources to Support an Innovative Culture.

In order to innovate, people have to balance the tension between managing the day-to-day while driving for improvement and reinvention. Does the group have what it needs to do the work? Or is a lot of time and energy going toward fighting for or juggling too-limited resources? In creating a culture of innovation, look at 2 areas:

  • Sufficient Resources: Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo, so employees need access to appropriate resources, including funds, materials, facilities, and information.
  • Realistic Workload Pressures: Extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity, and distractions from creative work are counterproductive when creating a culture of innovation.

It is critical that leaders across the organization understand their role in innovation. For senior executives, your role is to provide ample resources to support the creation of a culture of innovation. This may include killing bureaucracy and layers of administration. When we do this, we give the organization more oxygen for innovation, more space to be more creative.

Creating an Organizational Culture of Innovation

Once you’ve focused on the 3 areas — management practices, organizational motivation, and resources — that create a culture of innovation, you’ll start to notice employees viewing innovation as an ongoing process, not just a one-time achievement.

As you think about the connections between innovation and your work environment, take an informal approach: Ask yourself and others in your group, division, or function the following 3 questions, and brainstorm through the lens of the bulleted factors above.

  • What do we do that best supports creativity and innovation?
  • What do we do that most inhibits creativity and innovation?
  • What could we do that would improve creativity and innovation?

Your answers will reveal areas of excellence, as well as critical development needs. By garnering a deeper understanding of whether — and how — your current climate supports innovation, you can take steps toward creating a culture of innovation that carries your organization into the future.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help foster an understanding of creativity vs. innovation, and create a culture of innovation at your organization with a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Boundary Spanning, Collaboration & Teamwork, Innovation Leadership, Leading Through Change, and more.


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November 23, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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