3 Best Tips for building a culture of innovation in the workplace

Building a culture of innovation within the workplace… What does this truly mean? I have been asking myself this for some time now, while being currently saddled with the task. It’s caused me to do some internal digging, examining of what I understand innovation in the workplace to be and how I see it materializing in the form of a company culture. Being in the tech industry, at this stage, if your company is not pushing the envelope with innovation internally, how can you expect to deliver innovation to your clients, let alone build a venture?

Creative problem solving must become akin to coffee breaks in the office, and the innovative solutions must be that, true innovation rather than lip service only. Feel the problem, live the problem, solve the problem… So down the rabbit hole I go to better grasp what it is to build and have an innovation culture within one’s organization. Why don’t you join me?

Typical challenges

If everything were easy, everyone would be doing it, but remember… that which is worth doing is not always easy. Change is not always welcome, and change that comes on a near regular basis leaves many struggling to find stable ground on which to stand. Innovation is meant to introduce a genuine paradigm shift rather than simple minor changes in how something is done. Once must dig deeper, and peel all the onion layers of the problem to reach its core and truly tackle the source.

Challenge number one comes in the form of the leaders in your organization misunderstanding what innovation is. I have found that it can be helpful to even run some internal workshops to ensure people are on the same page as to what is and is not innovation. Consider the following example. Gojek (now GoTo) in the early days did not beat out the traditional taxi companies by purchasing cars, hiring more drivers, giving better services, and running their business in a better, more efficient way than the competition.

Now that we mutually agree the above clearly displays that which is not innovation; let’s recap the innovation that took place instead. In actuality, Gojek employed a series of innovations involving smartphones, GPS, and most importantly, the use of personally owned two-wheel vehicles to unlock tremendous value that was previously unreachable for anyone in that area and industry.

So through creative, innovative thinking and problem solving, they were able to create additional value and opportunity that was previously unseen. They did this by addressing the core source of the situation, that being people’s urban, suburban and even rural transportation needs.

The second challenge you will incur is equally if not even more frustrating, that is companies valuing innovation concepts more than actual innovation practices. It’s easy for an organization to say, “We are innovative”, but actually delivering on that is easier said than done. Remember as I mentioned before, few people genuinely like or even welcome change, regardless whether or not you can objectively prove it is beneficial.

Be proactive

Thankfully, you can overcome these challenges more easily than you may expect. As with most things, taking a proactive approach to solving these and any anticipated hurdles will greatly help. To begin with, have a clear company vision and stance on innovation, bake it into the onboarding and new hire training to ensure that not only current staff, but even incoming members understand what innovation is and clearly internalize your organization’s stance on it.

The practical goal is for your staff to continually unlock new value as part of the daily work they do, as part of their mindset. New values can translate into growth, operational efficiency, engaged employees, retention and so on when handled in the correct manner.

Final advice

I’ll be honest as I know you may still be shaking your head, innovation is not easy and the task of creating an innovation culture within your organization will be trying to say the least. Therefore, let me finish with a few final parting words of advice that I have found useful.

Focus on the practice of innovation as opposed to the concepts. This is necessary to instill a sense of value towards risk-taking rather than viewing it with fear or uncertainty. As well, creating containers within which people are able to experiment and run beta tests or develop prototypes (concept: creativity, experimentation, prototyping) can be very fruitful. The key is for each department within your organization to experiment as this should not only be relegated to one area of the company. Finding better ways to operate and better solutions requires the endurance to test, examine the results, tweak and test again in every aspect of the organization; therefore, it will grow to peak potential and beyond.

Give your staff the permission to hack; that is, if an employee wants to try something new, their direct manager(s) should generally back them up and give them the support or room they need. Telling your staff, “No”, constantly when they are trying to experiment is too antithetical to an innovation of culture. In conjunction with this, the support from managers is key to ensuring staff understand that failure is required as part of the innovation process and the company is with them. In it to win it, all the way!

Finally, start fine-tuning your processes, structures and technology to create a culture where innovation is the norm. Let’s not kid ourselves here, innovation is not just going to show up on your doorstep one day and hand deliver an epic paradigm shift that will take your organization to new heights. Innovation takes work, a mindset, proper environment and dedication to deliver. Create the right conditions in your workplace and watch the innovation culture grow!

Maria Agustin
Maria Agustin
People Operations
Maria Agustin is the Head of People Operations at Slash. She’s also the Co-founder of Pratisara Bumi Foundation, which runs leadership and entrepreneurship education programs in Indonesia. Originally from Jakarta, Indonesia, she’s worked in social innovation, startups and economic empowerment. In 2016, she started managing one of the top coworking spaces in Asia, and that’s when she began to focus on location-independent entrepreneur community building from around the world, the future of work culture, and people. She’s a community leader for one of the world’s well-known venture capitals, Techstars, in Asia Pacific and she has organised Startup Weekend Bali six times; as well, she is a design sprint facilitator at 1000 Startup Digital Indonesia.
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