Let’s talk about building a culture of EveryDay innovation. It’s one of our favourite topics, not just because I’ve written a book on it but because it really matters. As leaders we have to be thinking about innovation at a cultural level as we seek to evolve our organisations to become next generation businesses. Oh, and just to be clear, getting this right delivers game-changing, business transforming results. And, so why wouldn’t we want to talk about it!
The reality is it’s an easy subject to talk about because business leaders really ‘get’ the importance of innovation as a transformative power. As highlighted in Wazoku’s Everyday innovation report, 85% of executives see innovation as delivering cost savings as well as improving the customer experience.  Or how about the BPI innovation report in which 79% revealed that their commitment to innovation was either already very high or growing. 
So, if it’s that great, why aren’t more businesses actually grasping the nettle and transforming themselves; setting innovation at the core of every process, every belief, every behaviour and ultimately, at the heart of organisational culture? Is it because talking is easy? After all, rather than acknowledging the real need for change, building castles in the air and dreaming of future successes is a fairly pleasant way to pass the time in a board meeting isn’t it. Almost three years ago now I quoted statistics to the effect that the majority of board members agreed that innovation was more talked about than actioned and little has changed in the intervening years.
Talk without action = well let’s not go there! Having shared a stage at the last Owen James Meeting of Minds conference with the always engaging Martin Butler he said far more eloguently than us… “are you a walker, or a talker.”
Perhaps the reason why you have yet to build a culture of innovation is simply down to inertia. Let’s face it, review after review has put the underlying reason for business scandals down to poor culture; the FCA, the FRC, the CBI, other regulatory bodies and government have called on businesses to review and strengthen their culture, and yet 58% have not initiated a culture change programme of any kind within the last five years. 
If you haven’t undertaken a DNA level review of your culture in order to weed out mis-selling, bullying, short-term profiteering (profit before purpose) and so on, should we be surprised if building a culture of innovation hasn’t made it onto your to-do list.But as Simon Hill and I outlined in our Meeting of Minds closing keynote, ‘EveryDay innovation’ should be a part of everyone's job, in every department every day with resulting ‘innovation’ and change being by-products of being a world-class organisation. We all know that change is not only coming, it is already here and if you want to beat the disruptors it is more than time to join them in building your own future-fit, differentiated and even disruptive innovation-driven model.
Of course it could be that you are holding off on focussing on innovation because of the perception that such a move could lead to a lack of control. Or to put it in the words of Martin Butler again in reference to organisational leaders, “I think I may be clinically averse to letting go.” If that’s the case, let us reassure you right now that a culture of innovation works best within a defined structure. So whilst terms such as empowerment and collaboration may have to creep into the business vernacular, the door remains firmly shut on anarchy, insubordination and the ever popular ‘chaos’.
We could go on giving you more and more reasons not to do stuff and if you really want some more I suggest that you look at the first few lines of the Nickelback song ‘what you waiting for’ but as that song also says “Everybody needs a leap of faith - When are you taking yours?”
Just ask yourself:
- in a homogenised world what makes you different?
- are you really, and I mean ‘really’ delivering game-changing ideas or are you spending time, money and resources answering questions which no one is asking?
- and where is your focus; inwards towards short-term results or outwards and long-term towards delivering great products, services and experiences for your customers?
When you start asking questions like that; when you start looking towards differentiation and seeing the customer as absolutely integral to the long-term viability of your organisation then it isn’t long before you start to change your focus; looking to become what we call a ‘Next Generation Organisation:
- more insightful! Why, because… “Customer intelligence will be the most important predictor of revenue growth and profitability.” PwC 
- more connected! Why, because… “The focus is on collaborative deals and takes into account complexity at every turn. Business as usual is simply not viable.” KPMG 
- and more adaptable! Why, because… “Financial services leaders need to be able to quickly innovate, keeping pace with technologies, keeping ahead of competitors and respond to markets change. At the same time they need the skilled resources to do so.” PwC 
When you’re on that path then all of a sudden innovation doesn’t look so scary because you are ready to reach out and embrace the potential which it can bring. When Jim Donald took over as CEO of the hotel chain Extended Stay America it was on it’s knees and required a complete transformation of not only ‘what’ it did, but more importantly ‘how’ it did things. His challenge was his first observation about the people he was now leading, he said; “They were waiting to be told what to do, they were afraid to do things.” It’s time to stop being afraid, it’s time to stop waiting and time to start building the culture of innovation that your organisation and more importantly your customers deserve.
Article by Cris Beswick, Board-level Strategic Advisor on Innovation, Keynote Speaker, Future Shaper, and author of ‘Building a Culture of Innovation’. And Simon Hill, CEO at Wazoku, Future Shaper, TEDx speaker, INSEAD EiR and Guardian SME leader of the year.
Cris Beswick - Strategic Advisor, Author - Building a Culture of EveryDay Innovation