Undoubtedly, it is people and their knowledge that make innovation possible. However, having the most talented, curious or intelligent people isn’t enough to create innovative processes. An environment, culture and a particular type of leadership are all required to flow on the path of innovation. 

But what is “the culture of innovation”? It seems at once obvious, but abstract. The great challenge of culture lies not only in developing procedures, techniques or protocols to innovate but in “the informal part of culture”, that hidden component in the behaviour of employees and managers, which does not appear written in any document or specific manual but permeates everything that surrounds the work of each member of the organization. 

A good starting point might be to ask yourself how open your organization or work environment is to answering tricky questions and encouraging diversity and curiosity. In parallel, it is essential to promote continuous observation. What is happening outside? Research and monitoring the environment should become a habit. 

It is important to remember that innovation must be considered a process, not a final result. It must seek to take advantage of business opportunities and be consistent with customers’ needs and demands, and not simply a reaction to competitors. Companies in different sectors or industries from yours can also provide inspiring ideas. 

Here are a couple of recommendations that may be useful to start; 

  1. Consider your employees like customers. They are the real brand ambassadors. This idea has been developed and transformed into the conception that employees’ happiness is as fundamental as the happiness of clients. Why is this effective? Because employee satisfaction is an integral part of employee retention but also a great way to encourage change, innovation and the proposal of ideas. 

For example, when Airbnb focused its efforts on improving employee satisfaction by appointing a global director of employee experience in 2015, the results were impressive. It topped Glassdoor’s “50 Best Places to Work” list a year later. Here is an article about to make your business attractive to 9 out of 10 workers in the UK. 

  1. Hackathons. Hackathons are not only a space for computer programmers to tackle big problems. They are multi-day collaborative sessions where a team of employees get together and try to address a challenge, learn something new, or create something worthwhile. Hackathons are an excellent way to promote ideas out of the box, think originally, unite work teams, and invite to ask questions even if you’re not a technological business. 

AddThis, a company that has been doing hackathons for years, claims that they promote team loyalty, encourage risk-taking, and succeed in product development. Have you thought of an incentive or contest for your colleagues to conceive of a multisensory experience for your store? Have you imagined implementing practices within your company so that people with any disability can approach your products? Theatre for autistic people or advertising and signage for deaf people? 

As Peter Senge mentions, “the organizations that will become relevant in the future will be those that discover how to take advantage of the enthusiasm and learning capacity of people at all levels of the organization”. For this reason, the capacity to innovate in organizations as part of the knowledge and learning processes mustn’t be considered as an individual skill nor as the sum of a series of individual aptitudes. Instead, it should be considered as “a social competence shared by social actors who are part of a number, perhaps extensive, of relevant practices”.

If you’re eager to develop a more innovative culture in your workplace, make a start by registering for one of our free support programmes. Join our Bamboo Club to connect with other leaders in the fastest-growing businesses in East Sussex and share ideas, challenges and skills. Or sign up for our Sussex Pioneers film series to review your innovation strategy and access training tools and tips for you and your team.