Building innovative products is no longer enough for companies to stay competitive. Businesses – from startups to enterprises – must integrate innovation into their company culture to not only remain relevant in their respective industries, but to continue attracting and retaining the necessary talent for growth.

The problem is innovation is a broad idea that’s hard to grasp, and culture is an intangible concept that’s even harder to change. Developing an innovative company culture won’t happen overnight. In fact, culture change in an organization can take months or even years depending on the size of the organization.

Innovation must be accepted at a company-wide level, and not restricted to product teams to be most effective. This ensures that all employees are empowered and equipped with the resources they need to take initiative in the face of adversity.

One company doing just that is the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, who, for the last few years, has undergone an organizational transformation to become a more innovative company – and it isn’t isolated to just one team or department.

For more on Atlantic Lottery’s innovation journey, check out this video of Jean Marc Landry, Vice President of Innovation and Renewal speaking about the lottery company’s experience.

Aided by their Innovation Outpost at Volta and leadership from innovators at head office, the company worked to not only develop innovative products to attract and engage new market opportunities, but also create an innovation-driven organizational culture.

Regardless of where your organization currently stands, there are steps you can take today to make real changes in your business for the long term. We pulled together a few tips to create a more innovative company culture.

But first, let’s start with the basics…

What is company culture and why is important?

At its core, company culture is a shared pattern of beliefs which inform behaviour and perceived expectations. Your company’s culture will dictate the type of talent you attract (and keep), the values your office shares, and even the decisions your team makes when you’re not around. According to Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, authors of Uncommon Service, culture “tells us whether to risk telling our bosses about our new ideas, and whether to surface or hide problems.”

While it can be last on the list of considerations for growing companies, culture has real implications on your business’s performance and success. According to a 2016 Global Human Capital Trends survey by Deloitte, 82 per cent of respondents believed that culture is a potential competitive advantage.

As a leader, whether you’re a founder of a startup or the executive of a global organization, there are a number of benefits to fostering an innovative culture. Aside from creating an overall pleasant place to work, careful consideration for company culture can motivate your team to perform better, and in turn, help your business meet organizational goals faster.

How do you create an innovative company culture?

Before you begin introducing changes to your team, start by clearly communicating the value of the new policies and processes you plan to implement. Provide real examples of how an innovation-driven culture will improve your employees’ workflow and overall career satisfaction. While some may fear change at first, most embrace it when they fully understand its long-term objectives.

Get started.

It’s easy to develop strategies to create a more innovative culture, but it can be more difficult to actually start making progress. Don’t wait until a 30-page strategic plan is created; start today by making adjustments in company practices.

One immediate action you can take is to consider how much time is dedicated to productivity – and how much time is spent talking about it. Do you or your employees spend most of the day in meetings? Does the hour-long meeting really need to be that long? Instead, try to forego the meeting altogether, or, if that’s not possible, limit meetings to just 15 to 30 minutes.

Train your team.

A big part of creating a more innovative culture is inspiring the right mindset among your employees. Getting everyone on the same page will help individuals understand and assess specific opportunities, and resolve minor issues before they become major problems. Popular frameworks like design thinking and lean startup methodologies offer effective strategies for thinking about opportunities and problems differently. Volta recently introduced corporate innovation workshops in partnership with Accenture that helps companies and their teams think a little more outside the box.

Introduce innovative tools.

Tools that encourage collaboration and open lines of communication are key to creating a more innovative culture. Along with saving time, tools such as Slack and Trello make communicating with team members and project management a more collaborative and enjoyable experience. It also helps increase transparency and accountability within an organization.

Provide Strong Leadership

Strong leadership will help set the tone for positive culture changes you plan to make. Be a champion of the changes you want to see, and provide positive reinforcement by setting an example of what it means to be innovative.

Company culture is shaped by what leaders reward, celebrate and punish. Be sure to praise those who take action, instead of waiting to be directed. Learning from and celebrating new ideas that fail can be just as valuable to the organization as implementing the wins. Take note of every effort to create positive change, and learn from it.

Which leads us to our next tip…

Normalize experimentation and failure.

Innovation will struggle to flourish if your team is afraid to try new ideas for fear of failure. Creating a safe environment for experimentation will not only foster new product ideas, but also new ways of completing tasks around the office. It’s important to remember that not every new idea will work, and there will be failures.

Increase flexibility.

In the modern workforce, gone are the days of shift work and a rigid 9am to 5pm schedule. When performance expectations are clearly communicated, providing employees the opportunity to work when they thrive and where they function best can boost overall productivity and enhance employee engagement. This also reiterates the importance of a work-life balance as part of the organization’s value system.   

Infusing your company culture with innovative DNA is an ongoing journey that takes commitment from everyone in an organization. But with these tips and the collective effort of your team, you’ll begin to see a positive impact on productivity, morale, product development and more.

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