Why Innovation Training Won’t Change Your Business Culture

Dr Amantha Imber (pictured below) is the founder of Inventium, Australia’s leading innovation consultancy and the host of “How I Work”, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators. In her latest B&T post guest post, the goodly doctor argues if you want innovative staff you need to give them the time to do it…

Leaders mistakenly believe that putting a few people through a one-day training program about how to innovate will transform the culture. While people may learn a few new tools, expecting a training program to create an innovation culture is unrealistic.

To achieve true culture change, leaders need to consider several aspects of how their organisation works. Many companies are structured in a way that inadvertently kills innovation and avoids risk taking at all costs. Leaders make the mistake of asking staff to innovate but expecting them to do this as their “night job”.

There are several changes organisations need to make to create a culture where innovation thrives. First, companies need to give people time to innovate. One of the most striking differences between Australia’s Most Innovative Companies (as assessed by innovation consultancy Inventium as part of the Australian Financial Review’s Most Innovative Companies list) is around how much time employees are able to dedicate to innovation.

At Australia’s top 10 most innovative companies, 88 per cent of staff say they are given adequate time to innovate. This drops to only 18 per cent of staff saying they have sufficient time to innovate, in Australia’s least innovative companies.

Leaders that call for innovation need to understand that innovation only happens if time is carved out. While companies such as Google and 3M offer staff between 15-20 per cent of their time to work on self-set innovation projects, many organisations struggle with this model.

Some organisations have had success with seconding passionate and talented employees onto innovation projects for a period of weeks or even months. Other companies, such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia, allow anyone in the organisation to apply for a CANapult can, which gives people tools, time and money to innovate on a project of their choosing.

Second, leaders need to ensure employees are clear on the challenges that need solving. Ninety-seven percent of employees who work at Australia’s most innovative companies report being clear on the business challenges that require creative thought. This drops down to 39 per cent at their less innovative counterparts, who feel left in the dark.

Leaders need to clearly communicate to all staff what the most important challenges are that need solving. Providing staff with an avenue to submit their ideas and suggestions on how to solve these challenges should also be provided. If staff don’t know what they should be solving, innovation efforts become unfocused and scattergun.

Finally, leaders need to encourage teams to run experiments to test ideas. Running experiments and testing ideas with customers is par for the course at Australia’s most innovative companies. Ninety-two percent of employees say they are encouraged to experiment at Australia’s top 10 most innovative companies. This drops down to 34per cent in less innovative companies.

While an effective innovation training program will teach people the skills of how to run an experiment, leaders need to create a culture of experimentation, whereby people are actively encouraged to test ideas. Leaders need to create an environment where employees feel safe to fail, given many experiments do just that.

Having a culture of experimentation leads to data-driven decisions, and breeds curiosity. Rather than relying on subjective opinion or having managers block ideas with no good reason, the results of experiments can speak for themselves. This helps progress the best ideas, and leave ineffective ideas behind.

So while innovation training will teach staff important skills, ensure that the culture is set up to support, not squash, what innovation training delivers.