Step One in Cultivating an Innovation Culture
When I speak to groups or meet with prospective new clients, one of the mostfrequently asked questions I field is:
What’s my first step in creating a culture of
company wide innovation?
I love the question because I believe that innovation must occur at every level of
the company. Now, that doesn’t mean (necessarily) that the receptionist is
going to create your next breakthrough product. But it does mean that everyone
must look for and find a way to do their work better than it’s ever been done
before, to look for and find new and better ways to deliver value to customers,and to do that at as often as possible, even every day.
For many companies, and perhaps even most, I believe there’s a pre
step: understanding that innovation is everyone’s job. Think
about it:where does the greatest cumulative potential reside? On the front lines. Not in the C-suite. There are simply more people on the front lines,more working with your system every day, more interacting with and serving customers daily. So it all starts with understanding that building aportfolio of cross-company ideas is like building any other high-
performing portfolio: it’s a numbers game.
The challenge then is how to draw out the creative power of people in an organized, systematic way that provides a safe haven for everyone
involved, declaws the fear of failure, and begins to embed a real discipline around finding and solving problems. That’s the
first step.My suggestion is to shy away from big programs bent on massive disruption at first, and start with a single team
one manager and a natural
work group. Let’s say that manager is you. (The strategy is the same whether you’re CEO or a first
-rung supervisor, but from my experience,change spreads and happens faster at the front lines.)
You now s
trike a deal up front. Meaning, you agree to to say “yes” to your team’s idea or solution, one they choose, if it meets the
The team is to work in the general territory of something you feel needs attention
something of concern or that clearly advances a current
business objective. (It’s probably something that keeps you up at night).
The idea theme must concern something within your base of responsibility, power and control
something you can sanction immediatelywithout further approval.3.
The team is to develop a no- or low-cost solution that can be piloted quickly.4.
The team works on a problem they all touch and have working knowledge of.5.
The project must result in a clear value enhancement: quality, cost, speed, etc.