4 ways to start cultivating a culture of innovation for your business
It’s easy to focus on the here-and-now for your business, keeping things ticking along without thinking too much about the future. Perhaps it feels better to stick with what you know rather than risk hoping for too much and being disappointed?
But things change, whether you like it or not - and being ambitious allows you to prepare for the future and protect your business from future uncertainties.
Facebook took a step away from innovation culture in 2014, and by 2021 its user numbers were in decline.
Challenge yourself to think big about where you want to end up, and to focus on your purpose as you continue to grow. The milestones you’re aiming for will change as time goes on, but keeping your purpose at the forefront of everything you do will help you to make the right decisions time and time again.
Start with this thought experiment: imagine that your business is at its absolute peak - everything is going perfectly and it’s fulfilling all your ambitions. What does that look like? Who do you work with? What kind of work are you doing?
Answers to this will be different for every founder and business, and it’s good if your answers aren’t the same as other people's! Being clear on this purpose means you can always come back to why you do what you do when there are big questions to answer or decisions to be made.
Rapanui innovates to enable their purpose: to reinvent the fashion industry and make clothing sustainable.
In order for innovation to prosper, everyone has to enjoy what they’re doing - and stay motivated as their personal lives change and develop. What each person finds engaging will differ, so enabling everyone to be an individual and work how suits them is key. Making the most of your employees’ passions is sure to benefit your business’ productivity, as well as protect you from high levels of employee turnover.
To get started, try re-evaluating your job roles and descriptions. Do they give people outlets to express themselves? Do they show opportunities for learning and progression? Studies are showing that Gen Z — currently aged between around 12 and 25 — are considerably more selective than older generations in looking to work for companies with a flexible, supportive culture and ethical business practices. Giving some thought to what appeals to them will help you to attract a new wave of highly motivated talent to your business.
Gen Z has been shown to be the first generation to prioritise purpose over pay. [WeSpire]
Invite your employees to take ownership of what they care about - whether it’s directly related to their day-to-day work or not. Your people will be 100 times more motivated if they’re making a difference, bringing their own ideas to the table, and feel that their personal interests are facilitated at work.
Everything doesn’t always go according to plan - especially when running your own business - and we normally handle this by avoiding risks to minimise the chances of failure. However, when it comes to innovation, it’s incredibly empowering to take a different approach: Expecting and accommodating failures, and using them to learn and grow.
It’s important to point out that accommodating failures is by no means encouraging them, but merely acknowledging that along your business’ journey there will certainly be things that go wrong. This is inevitable - and, controversially for some, good! - as it shows us what doesn’t work and paves the way for better outcomes in the future.
The first step towards celebrating failures is to enable your teams to try new things regularly and run with their ideas, rather than tiptoeing around the possibilities of what could go wrong. Work with your people to pick out ideas that are low-risk or reversible - for instance, trying out a new marketing strategy or testing a new piece of technology - which you can easily recover from if they don’t go according to plan. Use these small initiatives as stepping stones toward larger changes, allowing your business’ purpose to identify where to direct your energy.
AWS champions recognising two-way doors: decisions that are reversible and can be easily corrected. [Amazon’s Day 1 Culture]
Challenge each other
In a truly innovative workplace, everyone is empowered to express opinions, try new things and recover from setbacks. This means that junior team members have as much opportunity to take ownership of their work as senior management - even if their focuses are different.
It’s worth considering the advantages of a flat company structure in driving multi-directional learning and support. Everyone isn’t at their most comfortable when speaking to their line manager or team lead - so allowing people to freely support each other can encourage more transparent, meaningful conversations. Equally, many senior managers or founders miss out on opportunities to benefit from the experiences of more junior team members, who are likely to have more varied opinions and ideas than a room full of CxOs.
In the late 90s, reverse mentoring at General Electric helped senior staff learn about the Internet from younger employees. [Financial Times]
As you can see, there are great benefits to a culture of innovation and a huge variety of methods to get started. It’s not one-size-fits-all, so try out a couple of these, see what works (and what doesn’t), and adjust from there.
In essence, a culture of innovation is born when employees feel valued, respected, empowered to run with their ideas, and aligned with the business’ values. When these are all put together, they can transform the way your teams communicate and allow your company to shine when recruiting new employees.
If you want to read more, check out:
- The Innovator’s Book: Rules for rebels, mavericks and innovators
- Creating an Innovation Culture
- The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them
Thanks for reading - I hope this has been helping to get you started with thinking about innovation for your business!
At Gravitywell, we work with Startups and Scaleups to help them achieve their goals. To learn more about our process or to chat about your project, get in touch.