Leader Volume 8, Number 1
Culture and Innovation
Anthony is president of Genesis Training Solutions in The
Woodlands, Texas (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
and author of High
Octane Selling (AMACOM, New York, 1995).
organization has a unique culture that drives the form, degree,
and speed of innovation. Metaphorically,
you might call your institutional culture the “collective
personality” of your organization.
I often compare it to a computer’s operating system that
oversees (behind the scenes) how operations really function.
An organization’s culture, which consists of deeply
imbedded values, beliefs, philosophies, attitudes, and operating
norms, essentially boils down to “how things are done around
One of the
initial steps in sculpting an innovative culture for creativity
and boldness is to discuss and assess your present
organization’s culture. You
can do this by answering the following 15 groups of questions that
address (indirectly and directly) how innovation is either ignited
and fueled, or snuffed out, within the borders of your
1. Do employees
know your organization’s vision, mission, and key strategies? Do they aggressively and imaginatively focus toward achieving
them? How would you
describe the culture of your organization?
What would you change to make it more conducive to
2. How supportive
is your culture to: a) risk-taking, b) creative experimentation,
and c) responsive implementation of ideas?
Which aspects of the culture, specifically stifle each of
3. What are the real motivating factors that regulate individual
and team activities? What
effect do they have on employees being more creative and
4. What specific
bureaucratic rules, procedures, norms, methods, and management
behaviors inhibit innovation?
How can they be eliminated, minimized, or modified?
5. What factors
or types of “successes” determine how front-line employees,
managers, and executives are recognized, rewarded, and promoted?
What are people penalized for?
How does that affect on-going innovative efforts?
6. How does your
organization view: a) daring (even far-fetched) ideas, b)
ultra-visionary concepts, c) calculated risk-taking, and d)
unavoidable mistakes from creative endeavors that didn’t pan
out? Is failure
generally seen as a learning or a (career) burning experience?
7. How does your organization deal with frequent change?
Historically, what’s been the resulting consequences and
causes change and who typically drives it?
How is change planned and executed?
8. What is the ratio between employees focusing on
problem-solving (“fighting fires”) and opportunity-seeking
(exploring for, and grabbing, new opportunities) for your
9. Do employees
feel appreciated for their ideas and recommendations? Do they perceive personal benefits (psychic and financial)
for being innovatively proactive?
What causes employees to stop their flow of ideas and drop
out from actively pursuing innovation?
10. Does your
organization have a structured innovative process that’s
regularly used to generate ideas (from mild to wild) and implement
them effectively and efficiently?
How much flexibility do people have in going outside of
their normal job descriptions?
11. Who typically
comes up with ideas? How are they usually created--by individuals
or teams, in formal brainstorming sessions, or informally and
percentage of ideas are implemented and how long does it generally
take? How are
potentially blockbuster ideas evaluated?
How would you describe the overall communication climate in
your organization? To
what extent is it open, honest, frank, positive, and supportive
versus closed, adversarial, or chain-of-command driven, for
example? How does
communication affect the way people react to ideas and work
together to approve, and implement them?
To what extent does your organization invest in sufficient
employee training for: a) creative problem-solving, b) imaginative
thinking, c) innovation concepts and application, and d)
synergistic team-building techniques?
Are employees given adequate resources (materials, time,
funds, etc.) to pursue steady innovation?
Are team operating standards and individual performance
criteria specific and clear enough to guide creative activity?
Are they periodically reviewed and modified?
15. Is your
organization more forward-looking than dwelling on previous
successes and doing the same, even with diminishing returns?
Does your culture permit a carefully tuned balance between
short-term returns (tactical mode) and investments of time and
energy for long-term gains (strategic mode)?
Culture is a
major determinant of an organization’s ability and desire to
what your culture is now, and how it needs to evolve, will help
map out a way to produce even higher octane levels of performance
in your organization, whatever its size and makeup may be.
So, how do you
rate your organization’s culture as it relates to innovation?