4 Ways to Build a Culture of Innovation

Giving your employees permission to innovate may feel risky, but it can add the spark your company needs to grow.
June 25, 2013

Not long ago in London, I was having coffee with a former c-suite executive at one of the world’s most prominent companies. I asked him about intrapreneurship, or the process by which a large organization’s resources are leveraged for entrepreneurial purposes. 

This executive told me that there is no such thing as intrapreneurship in 90 percent of the companies with which he’s worked. “It’s too dangerous,” he said. “Most organizations just want employees to keep their heads down and do their jobs. They have no interest in encouraging people to stir the pot.”

I found this incredibly depressing. If we don’t want people to leave our businesses to start their own, then we must provide them with the means to develop processes, products and services that make a difference and move operations forward. And the best way to do that is to ingrain the values of innovation and experimentation within our cultures.

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If you're not currently fostering an innovation culture, but recognize the value in it, the following tips can help you get started:

Step Away from the Gavel

Does your staff rely on you for every major decision? Are you knee-deep in all the projects being completed at the moment? Are you the only one free to impact your company’s big picture? If any or all of these are true, you are probably stifling your people. Although it’s difficult to allow your employees to work autonomously and trust that they will try to do the right thing, not micromanaging them will infuse your culture with a variety of perspectives and approaches that will help you surpass your competitors.

Teach Employees to Make Mistakes

If your employees are constantly worried that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they screw up, then they will never take the risks necessary to develop a stellar offering and your business will be mediocre. The only way to ensure true growth is to try new approaches continuously, so show your staff that you reward the process of trial and error even when there are more errors than successes. Share details about your own missteps openly so they see you’re practicing what you preach.

Don’t Raise Chickens

The cliché “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is still a valid image in many of today’s organizations. Employees are so overworked and frenetic that they can’t take five minutes to actually sit down and think about what they’re doing.

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Google’s famous 20 percent program allows employees to spend a portion of each day working on personal, intrapreneurial projects. While this is an extreme example, it certainly can’t hurt to create an infrastructure in which it’s easy for employees to develop and test new ideas. And now that the economy is a bit better, staff up so your best performers don’t burn out.

Make it Competitive

Hold regular brainstorms or “science fair” sessions in which staff members present their creative ideas and you select the best one to fund with resources and time. Tweak your performance review criteria so that innovation and experimentation are rewarded as essential attributes, and consider monetary bonuses for employees who serve as role models for the rest of the organization.

Read more articles on how to create an ideal company culture.

Photo: Getty Images