7 Ways To Encourage A Culture Of Innovation

7 Ways To Encourage A Culture Of Innovation

Effective and smart leaders know they have to maintain a competitive edge within their industries in order to capture their piece of the proverbial pie. Therefore, it is essential that a business continually improves upon what it offers – in product, service, and|or experience – and how it operates to ensure that they are maximizing all opportunities that exist and building a sustainable and agile business. One of the qualities that separates bland and forgettable businesses [even if at one point they were novelty and popular] from outstanding ones is innovation. Organizations that construct a culture that encourages innovation – at every level of the business – allows them to remain adaptable and forward-thinking. Those are the organizations that are making a place for themselves in the new economic order.

Many industries are evolving and growing at a very fast pace. If we aren’t actively soliciting and seeking ideas around maintaining relevance and keeping ahead of industry growth…we are stagnating. Getting your team to think “innovation” isn’t always easy, though. In a survey by Robert Half, 35% of CFOs said the greatest roadblock to organizational breakthroughs is a lack of innovative ideas. Executives polled also cited excessive bureaucracy (at 24%) and being bogged down with daily tasks or putting out fires (20%) as other major barriers to success, health, and growth.

Cultures that value and support innovation don’t just happen. They are created by design – through communication, meaning, purpose, inspiration, feedback, recognition/gratitude, and consistency. Ultimately, it is the organization’s executive leadership and mid- & senior leadership that will determine and set the tone for the level of initiative and involvement that their team members take in supporting an innovative culture.

IT STARTS WITH THE ORGANIZATION’S MISSION & VALUES: Organizational alignment is the absolute compatibility between the strategic and cultural paths, and consistency of them inside a team or, preferably, a whole retail organization. Much like signature relationships practices of specific teams, organizational culture is that it’s the only sustainable point of difference for any organization. Any retail organization can copy your strategy [it happens all the time], but nobody can copy your organizational culture and the people that make your business unstoppable [or not]. That is unique and tailored to the brand and, executives, senior leaders, junior leaders, and team members you invite onto your team! Smart organizations live their values and mission statement|vision and hire to that culture – consistently.

The fact is, if people aren’t feeling connected to your company, there’s little incentive for employees to be innovative. They’re getting their paycheck and, mostly, following their job description, why should they do more? Keeping each employee knowledgeable and engaged around the organization’s strategies, successes, and challenges, will allow for team members to deliver ideas, suggestions, and solutions to the business to enhance or improve things that are holding business or customer experience back. Employees who are involved early on and consistently in processes and planning will be excited to see them through to completion. Remember this when hiring: Experience doesn’t always equate to fit.

ENCOURAGE & INVITE ALTERNATE POINTS OF VIEW: This is an interesting one for me – I have been extremely lucky to be very involved in a few different industries in the last 16-18 months. It’s amazing how many innovative ideas people outside an organization and even outside an industry can bring to your business. One of my greatest frustrations and technological nemeses in the workplace is Applicant Tracking Systems [ATS]. Too frequently, ATS creates a dangerously myopic pool of candidates that are simply like everyone else in your organization which is not – necessarily – a winning strategy. Sourcing talent that is aligned with the mission and values of the company will help support inviting talent that is fearless, engaged, enthusiastic, and committed to your success. I have found significantly more benefit in personality assessments vs. ATS investments in the last 12 months to source the most fitting and highest-level talent for the organizations’ vision and values [including identifying innovation as a soft skill].

People who are in it, because they feel connected to the purpose of the business, and attack each day with direction and determination are highly beneficial and involved in organizations. When someone’s bailiwick includes innovation, they will bring that to any organization they choose to support.

According to Mark Murphy, founder and CEO of Leadership IQ, 89% of new hire failures are due to attitude, while just 11% are due to a lack of skill.

MAKE IT EASY FOR EMPLOYEES TO SHARE THEIR IDEAS: If your organizational culture is for the leaders to constantly be behind closed doors, on conference calls, and/or in meetings, the message to staff then becomes that their feedback isn’t convenient and the powers that be are making all the decisions. Solicit ideas, include people in meetings that generally aren’t invited, let employees know – directly – that their ideas are always relevant and welcomed. Keep discussions open and set in the tone of dialog. With so much technology out there organizations can use their intranet, brainstorming sessions, productivity tools [like Slack], or even an old-school suggestion box to solicit input. Even a rough, raw, or seemingly silly idea may just have merit given discussion and attention.

Eliminating processes, policies, and bureaucracy that don’t add value to the business is vital to the success of an innovative culture.

PROMOTE & RECOGNIZE FEARLESS BEHAVIOR: One of my favorite values that I have worked with is “excel & improve“. People who fear mistakes are inclined to always play it safe and follow the status quo. They are unlikely to summon up the intestinal fortitude needed to initiate change or innovation [they also have difficulty adapting to change, in general]. When you encourage innovation and don’t penalize mistakes, people are absolutely more comfortable sharing ideas, trying new things, and offering unique solutions to overcome issues or obstacles. When you work in a culture that creates comfort around excelling and improving you are challenging people to deliver new ideas – to look, learn, and work outside their immediate area(s) of comfort. Hiring to this value will ensure you have an individual who knows this is a promise of the organization and an expectation.

CALM THE CRITICS: The primary reason people frequently hesitate to offer fresh ideas or suggestions is that they worry what their colleagues might say. It takes a lot for people to speak up in the workplace. No one wants to have their ideas labeled as dreck or become a potential punchline for workplace jokes, or the yentas’ gossip. As a leader it is absolutely important that you are doing all you can to make it safe to brainstorm, to surface unpolished ideas, and even off the wall ones. Offering various venues to submit ideas and building time into your team’s week to have an open forum specifically designed for the exchange of, and dialog around, ideas will support the importance of an initiative of innovation.

BE THE EXAMPLE: As always, it is a leader’s duty to set the example through their behavior and making an enterprise of innovation important. Being vocal about your commitment to innovation and excited about the submissions and perseverance of the team as it relates to elevating their suggestions and ideas to overcome many business impediments will go along way in bringing visibility to the objectives and goals. Recognize and reward great ideas. Communicate the success of innovative ideas and fight for the organization to action them. Vividly and loudly assign credit where credit is due!


MAKE WORK LIFE BALANCE A PRIORITY FOR YOUR TEAM: By title this one may seem out of place on this list. However, if your team members are consistently working too many hours during the week and connected to work 24 hours a day [every day], they are unlikely to make any remarkable contributions to the business outside of their job description and basic work assignments. When people feel overworked and underappreciated – creative thinking and supporting innovation is one of the last things they are willing to do for their employer. Ensuring that your team’s well-being is a priority will let them know that they – as the fabulous human beings that they are – matter hugely to you and to the organization and they, in turn, will want to support the organization in a more deeply invested way.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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