How to Foster a Climate that Ignites Innovation

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.

Think of it this way: Creativity is the ability to generate novel and useful ideas, and 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.

All of these factors — management practices, organizational motivation, and resources — come together to create a culture of innovation. You probably know this from your own experience.

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Has Your Organization Created a Culture of Innovation?

To help organizations understand and evaluate whether they have the type of work environment that will produce more innovative results, we use the KEYS® organizational survey. KEYS also measures how creative and productive the workforce is — 2 outcomes that correlate with the work environment.

KEYS was developed by CCL and Harvard University’s Teresa Amabile and is based on research that ties innovation to 3 areas that affect the work environment and create a culture of innovation. Within each of the 3 areas, specific factors support innovation and creativity.

1. Management Practices

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

Specific actions and practices on the part of management 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.

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 work group, value individual contributions, and exude confidence in the team.
  • Support for Team Work: Because innovation is a team effort, people need to work on a team where diverse skillsets 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

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?

  • 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.

Read our white paper Turning Crisis Into Opportunity: Preparing Your Organization for a Transformed World to learn the importance of taking bold actions to push toward reinvention.

3. Resources

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.

How Creating a Culture of Innovation Supports ‘Continuous 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. (Learn more about the importance of continuous innovation.)

As you think about the connections between innovation and your work environment, take an informal approach to another element of the KEYS survey: 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 to create a culture of innovation that carries your organization into the future.

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Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help your people develop more innovative mindsets with Live Online Custom Leadership Training tailored to to your organization’s challenges. Available topics include Innovation & Breakthrough Thinking, Leading Through Change, and more.

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