Learn 4 Real-Live-No-Jive Ways to Create an Innovative Corporate Culture
It’s tacked on the office wall in virtually every company in America. Or maybe it’s in that thick employee handbook that HR gave out at orientation. The Mission Statement. Typically, it’s a collection of carefully crafted sentences meant to convey a purpose-driven ethos in the workplace. It’s inviolable. It’s sacrosanct.
It’s BORING and sometimes…meaningless.
That mission statement hanging on the wall is also a reflection of corporate culture, which Inc. magazine defines as the shared values, attitudes, standards and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. The mission statement may codify corporate culture, but the unwritten rules are part of that culture as well. Don’t buck the boss’ ideas. Don’t oversell to the client. Don’t wear open-toed shoes. Often, companies get so caught up in their corporate culture that what once served as a guiding principle becomes a straitjacket that stifles innovation.
In the spirit of the new year, perhaps it’s time to reflect on the culture in your workplace and ask yourself some tough questions.
- Is our culture helping us achieve our goals?
- Does our culture promote and reward a free exchange of ideas?
- Do the rank-and-file employees help shape our culture?
If your answer to any of these questions is no, then it’s time for an overhaul. Here are some ways to start steering the ship in a different direction and, hopefully, spark innovation.
Here are 4 Real-Live-No-Jive Ways to Create an Innovative Corporate Culture
1. Increase Diversity
Ah, the D-word. The concept of diversity is nothing new, but even decades after it was hammered home by corporations large and small, the mere mention of it draws a mixed bag of reactions. Entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes famously said, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.” Whatever your definition, studies have shown that the more inclusive the workplace, the greater the benefits. So, make the effort. Don’t just recruit and hire talented women and minorities. Hire younger people who are short on skills but always willing to try something new. Hire older people who know how to temper crazy ideas with wisdom gained from experience. Hire a disabled person, a person who speaks a foreign language, a person who has an unusual hobby or even someone who works remote for you. We are all the sum of our experiences and backgrounds. It stands to reason that the more elements we add to the mix, the better the results. Obviously, the best way to increase diversity is through the hiring process. But if your company isn’t in a position to hire 10 new people, then seek out a diversity of ideas. Which brings us to the second way to ignite an innovative work culture.
2. Foster and Reward Creative Thinking
Every workplace is looking for the Next Big Thing — that ingenious idea that will ramp up productivity and triple profits. We say, aim a little lower. The Next Little Thing is just as important to creating an innovative culture. Does an employee have a great idea that would eliminate wasted paper at the office? Give it a try. Has another employee found a new software program that could make scheduling and holding meetings more efficient? Why not explore whether the software is available as a free trial? When employees know that their ideas will be implemented — even if they don’t work — they’re more likely to bring them forward. And little changes can lead to big ones.
3. Borrow From the Best
Shakespeare was mostly right when he said there’s nothing new under the sun. If innovative ideas just aren’t flowing in your workplace, prime the pump with ideas borrowed from someplace else. I famously refer to this as R&D, Rip and Duplicate. Research ideas from small startups, which are often bastions of innovation, or ask friends what works in their place of business. Several years ago, Rachel Druckenmiller, a corporate health and wellness specialist for a Baltimore-based insurance firm, borrowed an idea from another company that had implemented hand-written notes. Druckenmiller and her colleagues purchased blank note cards, placed them in a common location and encouraged employees to write complimentary notes to each other. Sounds cheesy, but it worked. Druckenmiller told the Baltimore Business Journal that within weeks, cubicles started filling up with the little cards, and the mood in the office changed.
4. Take Your Time, Do It Right
Let’s be realistic. Shifting corporate culture isn’t as simple as rewording the mission statement. Just ask the folks at Aetna, which went through four CEOs in five years in the early 2000s. According to an article by Harvard Business Review, the corporate culture was a big part of the problem. “Once openly known among workers as Mother Aetna, the culture encouraged employees to be steadfast to the point that they’d become risk-averse, tolerant of mediocrity and suspicious of outsiders,” the article states. “The prevailing executive mind-set was, ‘We take care of our people for life, as long as they show up every day and don’t cause trouble.’” But things did change — slowly and from the top down. Within 10 years, surveys reflected that employees felt invigorated, and the balance sheet showed the company went from losing $1 million a day to earning nearly $5 million a day.
Longstanding practices and entrenched beliefs take time to change. It takes a combination of management and employees, patience and persistence. But it’s worth it if the result is a more innovative workplace with employees who are more vested in a positive outcome.
Author John Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We couldn’t agree more. Make it happen.
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