How can you kick-off organizational creativity as a company leader? How to become innovative and build a creative culture? Here are 10 recommendations on how to transform your company’s “Me Too!” mentality into the innovation-friendly culture of Creativity Un-Ltd. When is now the best time to start transforming your culture from copycat to CooL?
1. Start on top and be sincere—or else, better don’t start at all.
Building a creative company with unlimited creativity (which we call Creativity Un-Ltd.) means changing the status quo. Many middle managers and employees operate on an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”- mentality, so you’d better expect massive resistance from the existent bureaucracy and corporate inertia. An “innovation culture revolution” will only succeed with an initial top-down push and the unwavering commitment of an inspiring company leader and some trusted, influential managers that together build the core of a guiding coalition for innovation.
2. Correctly diagnose the disease before you prescribe the cure.
Creating a lasting culture of innovation requires an understanding of the organizational factors that foster or inhibit creativity—and how your company currently does each of these factors. As you visit a doctor to get a correct diagnosis and the right prescription when you are feeling sick, so you should consult an expert in organizational creativity to learn more about the current innovation capacity of your firm and about how you can effectively fight and eliminate the innovation-hostile cells in your corporate organism.
3. Brief and align the gatekeeper.
Brief the Human Resources Director to ensure HR alignment to your innovation focus. HR needs to consider the implications on your innovation capacity in every upcoming recruitment and promotion decision, in the design of a performance management system, and in the composition of your learning and development program and training courses.
4. Appeal to your senior manager’s wallet.
There is one effective way to ensure that all senior managers in your firm will support your innovation initiative: Link their bonuses to the actual innovation results of your firm. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that reflect a strong innovation focus –such as “% of sales from products introduced within the last four years over total sales” or “Number of NPL per year”- need to be a bonus-relevant part of your performance management system.
5. Adopt the 15% rule.
One cornerstone in 3M’s innovation culture is a tradition known as the “15 percent rule”, which encourages 3M researchers to spend up to 15% of their work time on projects of their own initiative. Google’s employees can spend even up to 20% of their work-time to follow through on work-related projects of their own interest. Be willing to give employees time to follow through on projects of their own interest – based on the understanding that they are innovation-focused or customer-related.
6. Provide your employees with high-quality creativity training.
Early on in your innovation campaign, invest time and money in a high-quality creativity training to change the mindset of your employees, and to give them the necessary insights and tools on “How to do it”. A quality creativity coach will enable your employees to “fly solo” after going once through the training and will be confident enough to guarantee for this result.
7. Build a culture of brainstorming – and of questioning.
Keep the momentum gained from a 5-star creativity workshop and implement a culture of questioning and brainstorming in your company. Earmark a certain period of time in every meeting to do some focused brainstorming on a pre-defined topic; every participant should also have a list of questions related to this topic ready before entering the meeting. Great questions help you to gain new insights in a situation and often lead to new ideas or even a solution to a problem – as the dramatist Eugene Ionesco noted: “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
8. Encourage playfulness at work.
A playful, vibrant and stimulating work environment helps to unleash the creativity and innovation of your employees. Always remember that a pretty good indicator of a company’s creativity and overall performance is the average number of laughs per employee per day!
9. Create internal social networking zones and events.
Strengthen the informal relationships in your company by institutionalizing social networking zones (e.g., a new central break room with an Italian Coffee Machine and a cozy sofa) and internal social networking events (such as a monthly Friday luncheon speech by an external expert). In these ways, you can increase the horizontal communication between employees and thus cut through the divisional or functional silos created by the formal organization structure.
10. Reward initiative regardless of the outcome.
Encourage your employees to take controlled risks, and allow them to make mistakes if you want to see creativity flourish and real innovation happen in your firm. Rename “failures” and “mistakes” into “negative feedback” or “interim results”, and encourage your managers and employees to praise and reward initiative. Embrace “negative feedback” as a chance to learn and to find the correct results on your path to innovation transformation and creating lasting innovation.