In the field of corporate innovation, one of the most often-used terms is “culture of innovation”. It’s the centre of the conversation when market success of companies like NETFLIX, Gore or Zappos is discussed. And it’s also brought up when people have a need to point fingers at some companies inability to grow beyond their legacy core or are slow to capitalize on trends.
Any culture is a set of common values, beliefs, habits, attitudes and behaviours that bind a group of people together. The culture acts as shorthand for how to conduct oneself in order to belong and thrive in that group. Therefore building a culture of innovation requires an organization to encourage and reward the values, beliefs, habits, attitudes and behaviours required for driving innovation. However, innovation is only one part of your company’s culture, like ethical behaviour is another one, or transparency.
In our work we often describe culture to the leaders we work with using an easily relatable metaphor – we say that culture is like a cloud. You can see it exists, you can feel its effects, however, you can’t touch it.
So how do you measure culture?!? Shocker, you actually can’t. What you can measure instead, are the attributes of an innovation-focused culture and your effort to develop those desired attributes.
Remember what we told you earlier about the metaphors we use to describe innovation culture? Well, clouds can’t be measured either. When meteorologists talk about measuring clouds, they usually look at their attributes and the effects clouds have. For example, a popular indicator in meteorology is OKTA – this unit of measurement describes the amount of cloud cover at any given location. Sky conditions are estimated in terms of how many eighths of the sky are covered in cloud, ranging from 0 oktas (completely clear sky) through to 8 oktas (completely overcast.
Similarly, you can recognize if a company has an embedded culture of innovation by looking at the attributes and the effects the attributes have on the results of the company.
For example, an attribute can be workforce behaviour and the link to engagement. Employees in organizations with a strong innovation culture tend to feel free to challenge the status quo, to experiment and are more resilient to setbacks and more importantly, change. Thus, a strong innovation culture tends to produce higher employee engagement.
A framework for measuring culture.
In practical terms, you need to look at your company’s result indicators first and see how many of these are directly impacted by culture. Then create a list of cultural attributes that impact these results and measure the presence of these attributes in your company.
Once you have a good idea of the current attributes the culture in your company has and the attributes which are lacking, you can start work on improving things. Our book, Innovation Accounting presents a list of questions you can use to assess your company’s innovation culture, starting from desired attributes for breakthrough innovation:
- Tolerance to failure
- Diversity (cognitive, background, gender and above all opinion)
- The practice and encouragement of continuous improvement
- Ethics (honesty, integrity, promise-keeping & trustworthiness, fairness, concern for others, respect for others, law-abiding, accountability)
- Frictionless collaboration
- Psychological safety
- How much do people see innovation as being part of their day-to-day job – in particular for people that don’t have innovation written on their business cards.