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“One Innovation Culture, Please”

Krista Naumanen • Culture & Business Advisor

Our modern, fast-paced and technology-powered world has created a growing need for in-house innovations and a demand for agile, innovative ways of working. Due to this persistent, accelerating change in our business environment, many organizations have already started their own transformation journey towards an innovation culture, in which everyone within an organization is empowered to invent breakthrough products, iteratively improve internal operations and actively developed the organization further.

At Futurice, we have extensive experience with clients across various sectors in executing programs to initiate a change towards a culture of innovation. When successful, an innovation program can be the spark that sets off a more extensive culture change by providing concrete tools for people to start reshaping their thinking as well as their ways of working. In our experience with innovation programs, innovation accelerators, ideation programs, digital innovation kick-starts – you name it – we have witnessed magnificent success stories as well as initiatives that haven’t performed particularly well. In the interest of enhancing the rate of success in attempts to build an innovation culture, we want to share some of the main lessons we’ve learned while creating victorious, in-house innovation programs.

Replace separate, stand-alone programs with a higher-level change blueprint connected directly to organizational pain points and business needs

In order to change an organization, innovation programs must be tied to organizational pain points and business needs, and be supported by an iterative plan to drive the change. Without a substantial connection to business, new innovations and ways of working learned and ideated over the course of the program will die, because business needs and genuine organizational issues will run them over in a matter of days.

When starting to plan an internal innovation acceleration program always have the big picture in mind and remember that one-off initiatives only produce temporary results. In order to result in a lasting a culture of innovation transformation that gives your company a competitive edge and an improved employee experience, an innovation program must be a part of a more comprehensive plan.

On the first day of an innovation program, define the used words, such as innovation, customer-centricity, agility and self-organizing, to form an organization-wide view and understanding on the desired results

Every innovation program should begin with a vocabulary definition exercise and gathering practical examples. A shared understanding of the applied terms is essential to create the desired value for business and reach a high degree of satisfaction among participants. More often than not, there is plenty of variance in the way different terms are perceived and understood by innovation program participants, which in turn leads to undesired end results.

For example, in an innovation program start by clarifying the following questions within the organization: What do we mean when using a term such as “innovation”? Are we looking for high-level, disruptive ideas, or incremental improvements? What does customer-centricity mean in our context? What kinds of changes are we looking for, and why are we advancing these topics? What are we trying to achieve as a business?

Old management techniques will kill innovations and new ways of working for two reasons: management style should support innovation programs – not inhibit them, and management should become a role model for individuals to change – not an excuse for not changing

It is a commonly acknowledged fact that the lack of management support in change programs will lead to failure. However, based on our experience, support alone is not enough with innovation programs. The secret to a successful cultural transformation is how much senior management is able to change itself, its ways of working, its discourse and leadership style.

The importance of change in management level behavior is twofold. First and foremost, the combination of the right metrics, a sparring leadership style and suitable control mechanisms create a platform to foster innovation. Secondly, “the management” is the most common excuse for an organization’s members to not change their personal conduct. When “the management” changes, these excuses are no longer valid, and everybody will be able to change themselves.

Adding agile tools on top of traditional processes will do more harm than good. Traditional processes in agile clothes will increase workloads and create confusion

Agile methods can help a great deal when building an innovation culture. However, to harness the advantages of agile organizational practices in an innovation program, these practices must align with the organization’s currently applied principles. Agile frameworks, like scrum and kanban, are based on the principles of self-organization and value based prioritization. If the main principles are not aligned, agile ways of working will be a redundant addition to the existing workload since the practices won’t make any sense for individuals’ work duties, or they will not mesh with the rest of the organizational practises or values. Any potential for innovation will be watered down by to confusing new practices and mismatching messages within the organization.

These four guidelines can help your organization avoid the most common pitfalls in creating an in-house innovation program. The shift towards an innovation culture will not happen overnight – nor will it happen just by executing one, isolated innovation project. But working with the right practices and having a clear change blueprint in mind will go a long way in kick-starting your journey towards an innovation culture.