Is your culture innovation capable?

Embedding innovation within work cultures leads to organizational success

By Tim Harnett

Business transformation has been a long time coming for every industry, challenging organizations that grew and matured in a more analog society. With consumers living digital lives, Andrew Webster, vice president of transformation for ExperiencePoint, believes traditional approaches can no longer deliver what consumers want and need. “As conditions and expectations change at an unprecedented pace, organizations and employees require new ways of thinking and tackling more and more complex business challenges,” Webster says.

One new approach involves realigning work cultures to be more receptive to innovation. These cultures are more capable of addressing any predictable or emerging challenges organizations face. “Many organizations currently draw against the bank of previously used solutions,” Webster says. “But solutions that may have worked in the past might not solve today’s challenges. As organizational complexity increases, you need fresh, new thinking, or you’ll be vulnerable to the future instead of being poised to grow with it. In truly complex environments, where there are no right or wrong answers, we’re a little less equipped to approach things with creativity, and that needs to change.”

Webster notes that most organizations are nascent in their journey toward innovation capabilities, but they’ll need to improve — and quickly. Three-quarters of HR professionals have been tasked with changing their workplace culture, according to recent research. Needing to increase innovation is one of the main motivating factors in workplace culture change.1 But where to begin?

Recognize the need and address the barriers to change

For some organizations, starting a journey toward innovation capability represents a significant departure from how they’ve always done things. The leadership team might need time to align themselves with innovation capabilities. “Executives often say they expect innovation,” Webster says. “But they’re seldom willing to explore operating models that challenge long-held assumptions or what made them successful in the first place.”

Compliance and regulations shouldn’t be barriers to innovation. “Constraints at both a psychological and system level actually help us to be more innovative,” Webster says. “Two challenges to creating an innovation-capable culture are behavioral and structural. People need time and the space to innovate. Sometimes an organization’s structure makes it difficult for people to see the customer perspective. Give workers time to improve behaviors and think creatively.”

While layers of decision-making can negatively impact innovation, Webster argues a more productive way to tackle the challenge is on the behavioral side. “At the behavioral level, there’s a range of bad habits organizations need to address. At ExperiencePoint that’s a major part of the role we play, getting people to embrace more productive habits. Rather than hack away at layers of decision-making, a more productive approach might be aligning the organization to the right behaviors.”

Make key populations aware of unproductive behaviors and work to replace those behaviors with new habits. Webster says this will help the organization learn how its workers interact with innovation and generate positive outcomes from the process. These can then be shared throughout the organization to build momentum for the change. “Having many voices in the organization — what is commonly disparaged as bureaucracy — can be an opportunity,” Webster says, “if the voices are equipped with the right behaviors. These people can then contribute with generative feedback that accelerates idea development and removes barriers, allowing ideas to thrive. Rather than start by changing the structure, if people behave differently, the structure will evolve.”

Culture change takes time but delivers results

Many barriers to innovation haven’t changed over time, but making the case to tackle them has become easier thanks to success cases leaders can follow. One of the biggest outcomes from having an innovation-capable culture is an increase in employees’ ability to recognize and respond to problems. “Innovation-capable cultures have greater agility and can deploy focus quickly to where it needs to be,” Webster says.

Other benefits of an actively innovative culture include a more engaged workforce and improved customer experiences. “There’s something exciting and invigorating about creating the new,” Webster says. “Even more importantly, innovative organizations are more connected to their customers. Staff are more connected to the people they serve, and a connection to customers is a connection to purpose. The more connected we are to purpose, the more intrinsically motivated we are, the more satisfied we are in our work. This produces more excited workers who get to see the results of the work they’re doing. A culture of innovation is consistently doing things like replacing complexity with simplicity for a customer or replacing frustration with intuitive appeal for a better customer experience. But you do need to support your employees as they make those improvements.”

Organizations will need to embrace new systems to contribute to their future. Only by allowing employees the freedom of creativity will organizations be able to grow their culture and innovate to thrive.

Learn how ExperiencePoint can help you transform the way people learn, manage change and solve complex business problems:

1 2018 Workforce state of the industry survey
2 2018 Chief Learning Officer State of the Industry survey.

We believe that experience is the best teacher. ExperiencePoint provides award-winning design thinking and innovation training that transforms the way people learn, innovate, manage change and solve complex problems. Using realistic simulation experiences, and a hands-on and proven workshop method, ExperiencePoint gives participants foundational competence and the confidence to think and solve problems differently, innovate and transform their organizations. Our clients include many of the world’s leading companies and academic institutions. Learn more: