Building a Culture of Innovation – 12 Innovative Touch Points

Building a Culture of Innovation – 12 Innovative Touch Points


Innovation (Photo credit: Vermin Inc)

Innovation is a huge buzzword nowadays – from the HRPA 2012 conference where many of the keynote speeches focused on innovation, to twitter chats like #peoplechat and #tchat about innovation, it’s having a huge impact on the HR profession. Of course, with my focus on Innovative HR, it’s also a slight obsession of mine. I believe that if your organization is not innovative, it will not be around beyond this decade (if that). I’ve written in the past about social technology as part of Innovative HR, and it’s about time I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) about building a culture of innovation.

Building any type of culture is dependent on a huge number of factors. I believe that every employee touch point has an impact, from your recruiting process to training and development, decision making, project management, performance management and even day to day interactions with leaders. While companies often say they are focused on innovation, an innovative culture is created by actions not intentions.

Here are some cultural actions that will help build a culture of innovation. Some of these are inspired by others, whom I’ve referenced below.

Build trust. This is fundamental to encouraging innovation. It’s also difficult to do if trust has been broken in the past. Leaders need to open themselves to feedback, share their own personal strengths and weaknesses, and watch out for reactionary behaviours that may injure trust. Employees need to feel that they can trust their bosses to be non-judgemental about their ideas, and leaders need to trust their employees to work on their own, without micro-managing. All of the following ideas really build upon this fundamental cultural quality.

Hire diverse people. Not just diverse racially or culturally. Hire people with different personalities, experiences, even different industries. Don’t be fooled into only hiring creative people or people similar to you. In order to make innovation stick, you’ll need a variety of people to help identify problems, plan implementation and engage hearts and minds. It’s not just about idea generation.

Ensure that everyone is aligned on your organization’s purpose. Continually communicate your company’s mission and vision. Make sure everyone knows, regardless of their role, how they contribute to these. If you aren’t aligned on purpose, you’ll have employees innovating ideas that will never get C-suite support or help the organization meet their goals.

Encourage people to ask “why” and “why not”, even when they’re challenging decisions. Leaders need to be ready to have their ideas challenged, and celebrate it when they are. A company full of “yes-men” will not innovate. The problem is that we teach this out of children in an effort to get them to follow rules and behave. Now it’s our job to teach it back into our employees, and recognize and reward it when they re-learn it. * Inspired by Amanda Lang of Lang & O’Leary at #HRPA2012

Establish a no-blame environment. This doesn’t mean a no-accountability environment. People must be accountable to their commitments, conduct, and responsibilities. Look to no-blame for well-intentioned innovative ideas that end up not working. Imagine if 3M had chastised the inventor of their repositionable adhesive which had no use but years later became the post-it note… One example is to provide employees with a “get out of jail free” card each year for ideas that don’t work out.

Include Innovation as part of your Performance Management process. Keep in mind that not everyone will be a big idea-generator, but all have a role to play in the innovation process. They may be the person to define a new problem to solve,  to plan the steps to implementation of a new innovation, or to engage the hearts and minds of others in the change or new program. Regardless, everyone should have some element of the innovation process included in their performance objectives.

Provide autonomy. If employees aren’t engaged or don’t feel that they can make a difference, they will not innovate. Ask yourself: How much impact does a frontline employee have on how they do their job in your organization? If the answer is “none”, there’s something wrong. Once they’re aligned to your purpose, they should be able to be innovative in their process. I’ve worked in companies that provided scripted steps of service for their employees. Guess what? Engagement dropped. Innovation was deficient, and the customer experience declined.

Watch your response to new ideas, even when you like them. Successful people often hear a great idea and have an urge to make it even better. They say things like “That’s great. How about we add this…” or “What if we tried…” Their instant response and addition to the idea may improve the idea by 5% but decrease engagement and motivation by 50%. Recognize the idea, celebrate it, and allow it to permeate before you add your own thoughts to it. * Inspired by Marshall Goldsmith at #HRPA2012

Provide opportunities for collaboration and crowdsourcing. I’m a huge fan of tools like Yammer, IBM’s connections, Jive software, etc. But collaboration doesn’t have to happen through technology. If you don’t have that as an option, have cross functional brainstorming sessions, breakfasts, project teams. Blow up the traditional, siloed organizational chart and invite people in other departments who show a competency or interest in a project to be involved in it.

Don’t let lack of consensus kill an idea. Or, as my friend Salima Nathoo (@socialsalima) puts it: “Consensus is the poison to potential”. Everyone won’t likely agree to an idea at first. Change is difficult. New ideas, which may be contrary to your own, are difficult. Work with the idea to grow it, ensure it solves a problem and is aligned to your organization’s purpose, but don’t let the naysayers create an impermeable roadblock.

Provide time for innovating. Most companies, after years of economic challenges, are lean today. This is understandable but it’s important to see past the short term financial objectives into the future of how your company will continue to grow and be successful through innovation. Employees are in a time crunch, and often are so task-focused that they don’t have time to think or reflect. It’s important for leaders to watch for this and help teams to prioritize and plan innovation time, from brainstorming meetings to independent reflection time.

Steve Vinter, head of Google Boston office, an...

Steve Vinter, head of Google Boston office, and Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, play ping pong at grand opening of Google Boston office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ensure your office’s physical space allows innovation. I don’t mean you need to add pingpong tables or slides from floor to floor like some companies have. But small changes can make a difference. Are your leaders all in corner offices? At minimum, encourage open doors. Do people have cubicles? Try knocking down the walls. I’ve worked in an open environment like this, and while it took some getting used to, it was amazing how it opened the lines of communication and collaboration. What about meeting space? Make sure there is enough of it, or open up access to tools like Skype, google hangouts, or other technology for collaborative meetings. Take a hard look at how your office is physically laid out and find opportunities for more creativity, collaboration, and quiet time.

This is only 10 ideas for touch points with your employees. What do you think? Do you disagree with any of these? Have other suggestions? I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below or connect with me on twitter!

If you enjoyed this, you might also like:

Building Company Culture – 3 Considerations

Building Positive Company Culture

12 Key Steps to Shaping Organizational Culture

My Page on Innovative HR

Innovative HR – Upmo Talent Management Software

Talent Culture’s posts on Innovation


  1. April 26, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Hi Pam, this is a fantastic post! I think your suggestions are fantastic and really touch many different parts of the organizations, types of organizational cultures, and strategies that leaders can capitalize on. The overarching trend that I see is that there needs to be a bigger picture approach- and at the end of the day organizational culture will drive a lot of these practices- being intentional about creating culture and the environment that fosters this type of innovation is critical. Also staying on the point of big picture, there is a huge level of integration and alignment that I hear coming out of your posts. Innovation is great, but if leaders don't have the innovation aligned with bottom line/end product/outcomes and objectives it is pointless, and will probably end up hurting morale, engagement, and buy in. My big takeaway from your post is that the value of looking at innovation from a strategic, big picture, and integrated approach is so important and really goes hand in hand with leveraging the strategies and techniques you discuss. Thank you again for sharing! :) @TyrellMara

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      April 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and providing feedback Tyrell! I agree wholeheartedly about strategic alignment when developing culture. So happy to hear the post resonated with you!

      Reply »
  2. April 27, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Great post! I really like the actions you've highlighted. The one that caught me off guard, however, was "Watch your response to new ideas, even when you like them." Providing that type of immediate "helpful" feedback is something I am certain I do - almost subconsciously. It is import to realize that our intended helpful suggestion may in fact be having a negative consequence on motivation and engagement. I think including this action in your list was actually quite, well ... innovative! You clearly practice what you preach. Thanks again for a great post.

    Reply »
  3. October 17, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Great to meet you Pam. I really enjoyed this post. I probably will try to share this at work. I really enjoy the idea of celebrating an idea before trying to enhance it. I think people enjoy knowing that their idea was heard and adds value. Cool stuff!

    Reply »
    • Pam (Author)
      October 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks Michael - that idea was a great one for me to learn from - I have a tendency to try to add to something before simply approving it. I appreciate you reading, commenting and sharing! Great to meet you. Pam

      Reply »
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