Building a culture of Innovation

A bountiful flow of creative ideas is worthless without business processes to assess and implement them. Leadership competencies for creating a culture of innovation focus more on how to instill those "cultural" values rather than on traditional management skills.

Success in this area requires leadership committed to building an innovation ecosystem. Leaders must establish clear objectives and make demonstrable personal commitments to innovation, emphasizing it, even in day-to-day decisions. Leaders must also acknowledge that for an innovation ecosystem to emerge, become self-sustaining, and bear fruit, they must create an environment where problems, conflicts, and disagreements can be discussed openly and solved in creative ways. In that regard, the singular most important step to take in such a direction is for managers to make clear that they do and will continue to entertain every new idea, no matter how unusual or controversial.

Just as management is expected to be receptive to innovation, managers can expect staff to generate ideas for improving every aspect of the business. As is apparent from this discussion, communication is key to creating a culture of innovation in several ways. First, communicating the innovation process is critical to instilling a corporate-wide value encouraging innovation. Second, effective communication is necessary to focus idea generation in areas where the company is not only most likely to act but also most likely to benefit. Finally, effective communication must maintain transparency in the idea pipeline as well as provide feedback to idea generators, so that originators of ideas not acted upon do not become discouraged, disillusioned, or disinterested.

Moving away from the abstract, below are several basic elements of an innovation ecosystem including a(n): 1. innovation portal or other intranet forum for crafting, sharing, testing, and perfecting new ideas in a participatory environment; 2. Cross-functional focus groups or product groups to test and classify new ideas; 3. Links (virtual and real) between departments to facilitate collaboration, and streamline communication; and 4. Board-composed of upper-level personnel to nurture the best ideas and allocate investment to them.

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