In our first two installments in our series on innovation, we detailed what an innovative culture looks like within business-technology organizations and provided CxO insights describing how to build an innovative culture.
In this third installment of the series, we examine how CxOs and digital leaders know that they’ve built a culture that will drive forward innovative ideas. According to the executives we’ve reached out to ask this very question, there are a handful of attributes one should look for that indicate a healthy culture of innovation.
Here are the four key attributes of an innovative IT culture:
Key Innovative Attribute One: Teams independently generate innovative ideas that the organization adopts.
Ultimately, the biggest sign that an enterprise can successfully innovate comes down to teams’ (and individuals’) ability to independently generate ideas and then see those ideas make it into use. “Oftentimes than not, an innovative team would be able to work alone without being actively supervised or given direction provided they have the right resources and time to perform associated projects after being empowered. If they do, then it’s an indicator that your efforts are bearing fruits,” says Ramakrishna Rajanna, co-founder and CTO at AI healthcare company CureSkin.
Myles Weber, CIO at Appian agrees. “You’ll know you have a culture of innovation when you see the results. New ideas will emerge, and your teams will be happy because people like feeling that their voices are being heard and that they are being seen as contributors. When leaders are regularly impressed by the work teams are doing, and team satisfaction is high, leaders know their culture is working,” Weber says.
Evan Davies, managing director at project management and data analytics firm Intuitix, also says that the clearest indicator of an innovative enterprise is involved employees. “Whether that be through providing feedback on existing projects or participating in discussions. Other indicators are the number of new projects that are brought into the business each year, the speed at which they’re adopted, and importantly, the uptake rate. Uptake rate we’ve found is the truest reflection, as it shows clear confidence in innovation from those involved in day-to-day operations,” adds Davies.
Key Innovative Attribute Two: Innovative idea generation is democratized.
Innovative ideas can come from anywhere. “Organizations that do well to foster a culture of innovation are those that believe innovation can come from anyone in the company – not just from its heads,” says Eden Cheng, WeInvoice founder. “This means that those companies that have managed to build an efficient flow of collaboration between their leaders and employees that is based on inclusiveness, trust, transparency, communication are the ones that have succeeded in building an innovative work culture,” adds Cheng.
To these ends, CIOs must make certain that the organizational culture lacks structural organizational silos. “For instance, when employees are being encouraged to take part in meetings and activities outside of their usual roles, this allows them to learn other aspects of the business and are free to contribute ideas, as well as make well-informed yet bold and innovative decisions,” Cheng says.
“You’ll recognize the success of building an innovative culture in an organization when everyone is engaged and has the freedom to (and is encouraged to) try something new. In this environment, learning is seen not as a hurdle or a challenge, but a thrill,” says Walid Negm, chief research and innovation officer at Capgemini Engineering.
Key Innovative Attribute Three: Failures are accepted as part of the process.
Another sign of an innovative culture is enabling failure to be a normal part of the process. “The ultimate testament to building an innovative culture that helps create autonomous digital enterprises is adapting or incorporating ideas from fail-first programs into new or revised product offerings,” says Ram Chakravarti, CTO at BMC Software. “CIOs know when they’ve succeeded in building an innovative culture when employees have a clear-cut process in which they can contribute ideas with the help of mentorship and without fearing failure. There should be a constant feedback loop of idea generation, mentorship, and presentation coaching,” Chakravarti adds.
Key Innovative Attribute Four: Leadership asks about which ideas are working, and which are not.
Of course, one of the greatest indicators of success could stem from simply asking those most likely to be affected by innovative gains, or lack thereof – customers and employees. “Customer feedback is the golden measure. How our customers view the IT organizations determines if CIOs have succeeded in creating innovative cultures that are relentlessly focused on solving the most difficult problems in a collaborative manner,” says Rockwell. “The engagement level of employees can paint a clear picture of whether leaders have set an innovative culture. Employee engagement scores are an important measure to highlight engagement and a sense of belonging,” adds Rockwell.
Andre Russell agrees. “It’s also important to take time to conduct confidential internal HR surveys, monitored over time to keep a pulse on how your team feels, and ask internal stakeholders to provide feedback on their satisfaction with IT/IS work,” Russell says.
Of course, building an innovative culture is something that’s never “built.” Not in the sense of being completed. Much like a garden, an innovative culture needs persistent management and care. “Culture is something you have to be mindful of and tend to every single day,” says Melissa Boggs, vice president of business agility at Sauce Labs.