Recognizing the conditions for changing innovation’s culture and climate

Complexity in innovation knotTackling the culture and climate that is needed to create a thriving innovation environment is complex.

In this post I can only touch on certain points to trigger that deeper examination and offer the stimulus and considerations it needs.

Within the Executive Innovation Work Mat we have seven domains or components that need bringing together to form a new integrated knot.

The aim of the work mat is to draw the senior executive into the innovation process and to support them as they think through what is required to build a more sustaining and integrated innovation understanding within the organization. Their role is a strategic one that sets the conditions and overview on innovation.

Tackling the culture and climate needs for innovation is my third article for raising questions in potential innovators minds. I have already offered some thoughts on Governance for innovation and the Environment conditions required. Before this current series I have extensively focused on the strategic alignment and leadership considerations for their engagement through this work mat approach.

Culture and the necessary climate do have a considerable effect on management practices.

I always gain the impression that the ‘harder side’ of innovation through its processes, technologies, structures and functions gets the greater attention. Partly because this is the more tangible side, yet the ‘softer side’ of climate, culture and environment makes or breaks innovation. “Culture is the playing field of the actions, transactions and interactions” (Hattori and Wycoff,2002) of the people who search and ‘work’ innovation. Dealing with a change in culture is complex.


  • It is generally recognized culture moderates innovation, presently the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” attests to that. It influences the management practice, it provides the climate for relationships, and it directly influences behaviours and performance. Attention needs to always be paid to creating a positive culture and climate
  • To foster innovation the ability to create an environment and culture that promotes creativity, promotes engagement and stimulates the ability to learn and embrace change needs knowledge to flow across the organization.
  • The climate for innovation is the signals individuals receive on the expectations and outcomes required from innovation. This needs strategic alignment. This needs reinforcing in governance, function and design, structures, metrics, rewards, hence the real value of an integrated executive innovation work mat approach.

By working constantly on providing the ‘right’ conditions and climate required for innovation allows the culture to evolve and become increasingly innovative as part of its make-up. An innovation culture make it so much easier for senior management to implement innovation strategies and plans.

Along with the environment, culture and climate determine either success or poor performance in eventual outcomes and the potential for sustaining innovation performance.

Creating a culture for innovation requires a new social contract.

In the mid-nineties the work of Goffee and Jones provided this idea of the social contract. If you want to set about establishing a new way of behaving it does need to become a new social contract.

The risk was that if it was not clearly seen as an improvement over the old, it just did not work any better, it would be consigned to being little more than the latest initiative or fad and treated as such. To change the culture requires the management of attention (Van de Van, 1996) otherwise you are constantly moving through different crisis.

  • It is the management of the organization that determines the culture, its values, its practices and behaviours.  It is theirs to create. The creating of one that promotes creativity, is fully engaged, and has shared values and beliefs.
  • The culture of the organization is ultimately a reflection of the leaderships own approach to their practices. If the leadership is seen to seek the short-term, varies its operating practices and does not apply the same value and practices it expects from others, it will never start a positive cultural change for managing innovation, unless through threat and fear, and that is not sustaining.

If an organization wishes to build a unique competitive edge, it is largely going to come through its people, the culture and practices they wish to stimulate.

In truth we face the hard questions that need leadership resolution?

truth in innovation

  • Culture can be the most important barrier to delivering on innovation programmes as Culture has a profound influence on innovation’s success, where is it in your thinking?
  • Replacing all the past years of efficiency and right-sizing what will bridge the present feeling of little incentive, low energy, desire or motivation to consider new ideas or initiatives? Why would employees stick their hand up to be seen? The risks?
  • How do you break the existing ‘business as usual’ culture that dominates?
  • What do you do to overcome the “not-invented here” syndrome often found in most functions? How are you breaking down the silo’s of activity and knowledge?
  • The organization ‘antibodies will fight innovation if they feel threatened
  • What about all those years of pursuing the short-term, reacting to those ‘prevailing’ market conditions by downsizing becomes ‘baked in’ so anything new that is challenging this has a serious set of barriers to overcome. Can this change? Leaders need to decide.
  • If you have employed the approach over many years of incremental is innovation how can you alter these existing behaviours, routines and practices associated with this ‘improvement’ only mentality?
  • Middle managers fall back and use their existing tools, methods and techniques in poor attempts to manage innovation. They feel threatened and vulnerable and will block change unless they become part of the solution and not seen as ‘locked into’ part of the problem. This is a critical blocking point for innovation to ‘take hold’ or not.
  • People are rational actors; they gravitate to the tasks aligned to their elevation, job description, reward metrics and background training.
  • The choice of work tends to move towards safe, familiar products, structures and systems over the potential ‘risk’ associated with innovation unless something radically changes.
  • Any system that reinforces the status quo will resist innovation as it is risky and insecure.
  • Irrespective of the demands for innovation from the top, the established culture simply resists or makes token efforts.

So which ones apply in truth within your organization to resolve?

Our solutions need organizations to play for the long game.

Pushing innovation growth up

There is the need to change many of the current factors that make up the culture and climate to achieve full engagement but this takes time and serious top management commitment

  • It is recognized by 70% of our organizations from research, they regard the CEO as the most important source of developing a culture for innovation to thrive and survive.
  • To identify the conditions to make this sort of substantial change in the necessary cultural attributes and characteristics is really hard work
  • Changing prevailing attitudes, behaviours, compensation and rewards needs careful, considered and dedicated attention
  • Corporate culture does not change easily or quickly, often the old submerges often waiting for the right time to resurface and regain its grip on this is the ‘why we do things around here’
  • The work of a HR team and talent recognitions on how to innovate, the attributes, the traits and characteristics, and then understanding these needs auditing to discover what you have in potential. This enables you to decide what needs to come into the organisation to infuse it differently and then be specifically managed.
  • This whole programme of possible renewal needs a robust internal and externally supporting set of programmes.

In summary we need to offer a culture that will look so different.

Complexity in innovationThe ultimate aim is to instil a culture that places trust, open communication, and those behaviours that seek out innovation and rise to the challenge. A more open, confident culture that actively manages the risk, opportunities and learning as natural and exciting. One that has ‘measured failure’ as part and parcel of the knowledge gained and drawn experiences within the new culture.

A place where there is a growing sense of personal accountability, passion and pride and a reverence, appreciation and respect for tapping into the talent and knowledge that resides inside and outside the organization, where collaboration and networking is second nature.

Lastly where the orientation is outward looking, identification with the customer and their experience dominates thinking and innovation design.

People are the vital part in innovation

It can only be re-emphasised that people are the vital part to innovation, everything else is subservient. To build a lasting culture to innovate requires significant engagement and commitment and this can only come from the top with nothing else than their full engagement, otherwise it will not be perceived as important.

Changing the culture needs addressing in a comprehensive fashion or you will be left with much of the existing culture that will prevail and innovation’s performance will remain as it is currently, or will be much poorer if you attempt to meddle only with selective parts .

Is your organization’s existing innovation good enough? I would certainly question that it is in today’s hyper competitive globally connected world but tackling the culture needs real strategic commitment? The work mat draws out the issues to then wrestle with them and find the level of engagement achievable and what this will truly mean in the organization’s lasting bond with innovation. Leadership can only decide.

7 thoughts on “Recognizing the conditions for changing innovation’s culture and climate

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