This article originally appeared in Monitor’s inaugural innovation issue
Many equate innovation with technology, but the true source of meaningful change is a company’s culture. Monitor sits down with innovators from this year’s list who share how to build a culture of innovation. By creating an environment where diversity of thought is required, experimentation is encouraged, success is celebrated and failure is acknowledged, a company can challenge group think and embrace consistent improvement.
Company culture — the shared values, goals, attitudes and practices of an organization — is the bedrock of innovation. But where does a company’s culture originate?
“People say culture has got to come from the top,” Rafe Rosato, chief innovation officer for DLL Group, says. “But that’s not where it comes from. Culture comes from the bottom. Structure, rules, governance, funding, allocation, resources, priorities, all of those things come from the top.”
“Our employees make our culture every day, in the way they think, in the way they brainstorm with their coworkers,” Jackie Havel, vice president of human resources at Amur Equipment Finance, says. “The HR team can brainstorm about the culture and about what we’d like it to look like, but it’s the employees that drive it.”
Setting Up for Success
At the same time, Havel says leaders must prioritize innovation and let it flow down through the organization.
“You need to write things down,” Eric Starr, SVP of program operations and risk at Accord Financial, says. “Otherwise, people don’t know what you’re trying to do. Write them down, repeat them, share them and make it transparent so everybody knows how you’re thinking, where you’re going and what you’re doing.”
Starr suggests leaders determine not only the company’s core values but clearly state its vision, mission and objectives, which will naturally lead to identifying necessary goals and initiatives. “You start from the top down, and then you grow from the bottom up until you achieve,” Starr says.
Angela Armstrong, president of Prime Capital, took her team through business execution coaching with a group called Results, which helped her team reach an important conclusion: “It’s not the lack of ideas that prevents companies from moving forward in innovation, making change or growing or scaling. It’s the lack of disciplined, continuous execution,” Armstrong says.
The Prime Capital team already had a process of quarterly sprint objectives built by cross-sectional teams, but business execution coaching helped them move beyond day-to-day tasks into the realm of micro innovations. The team learned to identify one thing they wanted to change within 90 days and make it happen.