Marieke van Raaij, Director at Up! Advisory and a seasoned consultant in Employee Engagement and Organisational Culture, shares with us her take on the markers of an innovative company and how leaders can encourage this momentum moving forward.
More than 90% of executives said they believe the fallout of COVID-19 will fundamentally change the way business will occur in the next 5 years. If we learned anything from 2020, it's that the only means of survival is moving fast, thinking big, and reacting smarter as the challenge unfolds before us. There are a few lucky industries that have found themselves in the right place at the right time, but for the majority of organisations, it is the way they’ve leveraged their workforce and develop novel solutions that have enabled them to thrive even in turbulent times.
Marieke: It really goes back to the firefighting analogy. Most people think the last thing they should be doing during this time is to innovate, but they forget that organisations just don’t compete if they’re always treading the same water. There’s a need to change products and services to meet customer needs especially when the landscape is changing.
Kathryn: So how do companies know an innovation culture exists? How can they build an appetite for that in their employees?
Marieke: Most organisations like to herald how innovative they are, but you have to look through a couple of lenses.
“The Way We Do It Around Here”
Company culture plays first and foremost in innovation. You can’t expect a culture that doesn’t support innovation to then come up with employees who will develop novel solutions and be willing to take risks during crunch time.
Questions to assess this include:
Are managers openly receptive to new ideas from their teams?
What happens to bad ideas? Are they able to fail without penalty?
How agile is the process ideas are worked out? How quickly does a prototype or a test take to move forward?
“Who We Are”
Many people don’t realise that the makeup of an organisation matters tremendously. There is some overwhelming research in the D&I sphere that indicates diversity as a key driver of innovation and economic performance. It makes sense even if you just think about it plainly - if everyone is the same, how can there be different ideas? The primary marker here is to enable different ideas to come from every pocket of the workforce, and that they’re actually being embraced and brought forward. Furthermore, organisations with a diverse workforce and a strong D&I strategy is crucial when attracting and retaining top talent.
“What We Get”
When you look at the way employees are being rewarded - pay, bonuses, etc - they are rarely tied to innovative practices. There needs to be something clear in the performance management process about innovation or it will be easy to put that to the side and focus on other things. At the end of the day, you do what you need to do to move forward in an organisation and be well paid, so innovation needs to influence that to be encouraged.
Kathryn: That’s actually really interesting because those areas haven’t really changed as a result of the crisis. Company culture, D&I, and reward schemes will remain markers even as organisations have to pivot and adapt to the future of work and the digitalising economy. Those strategies and basic human truths continue.