How an Enterprise Can Create a Lasting Culture of Innovation

In this hyper-fast IT product-making environment, continual cycles of innovation are as important to a business’ long-term relevance as they have ever been. Without it, organizations quickly lose ground to competitors, new market entrants and industry disruptors.

This has led largely to the rapid rise of continuous iteration of software applications as a standard development approach. These include the DevOps and agile development strategies and a whole new cottage industry that’s been built around tools for these purposes. eWEEK has been covering these developments for more than five years.

However, one of the common mistakes businesses make is assuming that innovation is limited to technological development. In reality, innovation is not only about new technologies and inventions; it is a mindset that must be cultivated within an organization. Once that approach becomes embedded in a corporate culture, it sets the table for new ideas, new products and company growth.

To explain this, eWEEK offers this Data Point article, which consists of 10 strategies based on industry information from Cisco Systems’ Managing Director of Strategic Innovation, Alex Goryachev, for how organizations can create a lasting culture of employee-led innovation.

Further reading

Data Point No. 1: Innovation can come from anywhere.

Innovation can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. It can be a new business process, a new way of communicating with customers, or game-changing improvements that boost the top or bottom lines. Organizations should implement programs that solicit innovative ideas from all departments and provide the support to bring those ideas to life.

Data Point No. 2:  Enable cross-functional collaboration.

Break down business-unit silos and provide opportunities for individuals from different departments and functions to collaborate. Innovative ideas and new ways of thinking happen when people from different backgrounds, with diverse perspectives and skillsets work together. Cross-functional teams should be inclusive, valuing each member’s perspective.

Data Point No. 3:  Get buy-in from the C-Suite.

Innovation rarely comes from the top down, but executive support for innovation across all functions is still essential. Leaders from the C-suite on down must reinforce companywide innovation as a key strategy for each employee. Employees can tell if a company is only paying lip-service to the idea of innovation, but if executives walk the talk by providing innovation resources and incentives, it can make innovation contagious across the organization’s talent pool.

Data Point No. 4:  Encourage employees to pursue passion projects.

Anyone can become a great innovator when motivated by personal passion. Most entrepreneurs are driven primarily by the desire to take their idea and make it work to improve things – not financial incentive. Companies should create opportunities for employees to discover their passions, and provide mentorship and support to help them turn those motivations into marketable solutions.

Data Point No. 5:  Gamify innovation.

Innovation thrives in environments that encourage creativity and fun. Gamify your approach to innovation by creating friendly and exciting competitions that reward and recognize employees for developing breakthroughs to existing problems. Incentivize teams with prizes like extra time off or significant funding. Just remember, awarding prizes without providing follow-up support to help the winners bring their ideas to life will only make the company’s efforts seem hollow.

Data Point No. 6:  Engage with the broader community.

Innovation cannot live in a vacuum. Invest in online collaboration sites linking employees with external resources, co-working maker spaces and external innovation centers. These collaborative environments allow employees to interact with the broader ecosystem of innovators in their community, including customers, partners, local startups, developers, representatives from the local government, and researchers from local universities.

Data Point No. 7:  Empower employees to take risks and embrace failure.

Innovations are rarely completely right on the first try. Empower employees to experiment and take risks without judgment. Celebrate failures as learning opportunities and stepping stones on the path to ultimate success.

Data Point No. 8:  Mentors are more impactful than managers.

Innovators need mentors, both inside and outside the company. Traditional managerial roles can be roadblocks to innovation by focusing on top-down decision making, rigid deadlines and short-term outcomes. In contrast, mentors don’t direct; they guide individuals and teams on how they can move forward to overcome business or technical hurdles, then they back off and let the teams do it. 

Data Point No. 9:  Create an innovation strategy.

Companies often have no defined approach to innovation, treating ideas as one-off projects or throwing money at them without a clear process for bringing about innovation. Innovation should be a disciplined process, but one that still gives employees the freedom to work outside their normal roles and pursue their interests. Set the strategic focus then give innovators the time and resources they need, and get out of their way.

Data Point No. 10:  Make startup-like entrepreneurism a core tenet of the company culture.

Innovation is a mindset that must be embedded into each employee’s everyday focus. Company-wide innovation programs, reinforced by the C-suite and business-unit leaders, must encourage all employees to think and act more like entrepreneurs in a startup-like environment. Back up this manifesto by providing the tools necessary for employees to co-develop their most passionate ideas.