How to create a culture that accounts for the human side of innovation?
Five years ago, Alex Honnold scaled the sheer face of the 3,000-foot El Capitan escarpment alone and without ropes—the only person to have ever done so. Honnold has great skill and discipline, but he is also blessed with a special brain: an MRI scan has shown that his brain doesn’t register fear.
According to McKinsey & Company, innovation may not put you at risk of death, but it is anxiety inducing. Setbacks, criticism, and self-doubt hold back many people from embracing innovation. Which is why most teams, in moments of honest self-reflection, will agree that fear can paralyze innovation. In fact, Mckinsey & Company recently polled executives and what seems? 85 percent agreed that fear holds back innovation effort often or always in their organization.
Nevertheless, innovation is a critical driver for growth. It is therefore that many leading innovators invest in building a corporate culture that pair the infrastructure to success with a thoughtful design of employees’ emotional journey towards it. As a result, McKinsey have done research to understand what a successful innovation culture entail. They looked for differences between how leading innovators (organizations ranked in the top quintile of innovation) and all other tackle the fears that can hobble innovation efforts.
The main finding of their research is that the culture and employee experience of innovation correlate highly with an organization’s overall success at innovating. At the same time, fear is a constant for almost all practitioners. However, there are big disparities in the nature and intensity of that fear, as well as in how companies temper its negative impact. Research shows that three fears hold back corporate innovations more than others: fear of criticism, fear of uncertainty, and fear of negative impact on one’s career.
Five fundamentals of innovation culture
Organizations wishing to build a thriving culture of innovation need to be systematic and intentional. Mckinsey & Company’s research and client experience have shown that all high-performing innovators embrace to various degrees five dimensions of innovation culture (exhibit):
- Believe and value: innovation is seen as a moral responsibility
- Frame and champion: sharing successful stories about past, present and future innovations
- Signal and symbolize: the use of symbols to reinforce innovation
- Show and ritualize: innovation days, hackathons, and meeting-free days as innovation rituals
- Shield and empower: the use of fear as a motivator
The most valuable lesson of this model is to understand what is happening in your organization so you can see, hear, and feel what is needed to improve engagement. Consequently, the organizational culture and new leadership are both crucial aspects for the implementation process of engagement.
In conclusion, in order to create a culture with a human side towards innovation, organizations must give employees the assurance that is okay to experiment, ask questions, and provide feedback:
“There is a sense of safety and security present in the organization that creates the trust that lets people take risks—like loving parents and children. Security breeds trial and experimentation.” – innovative leader.
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