Many companies harbour narratives around overlooked opportunities that can come back to haunt them when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent. What can we do to develop the right culture? Kathy Mast explores.

Think of it. You’ve just turned a great idea into reality! A new product, service, process or even business model demonstrates new efficiencies, effectiveness, revenues or profitability, and new marketing and sales opportunities! Surely so much value could not be entirely rejected you think. Think again.

Have you, or individuals or teams around you, developed great ideas or achieved breakthrough innovations only to have them rejected by negativity, complacency or a perceived threat of political competition? Does this happen in the real world?

Of course it does! It might be a story we are reluctant to tell ourselves but it is there. Think of examples like the highly-fuel efficient automobiles that were never commercialized in Detroit. Think of delays in commercialization for great new products, like the fax machine, that had to reach a “tipping point” to achieve success. Real-world negative reactions prevent innovations from being immediately or, in some cases, ever embraced.

Yet mastering the ability to continuously innovate through highly talented people continues to be top of mind for the majority of the world’s leading CEO’s.

To deliver on top talent CEOs must lead their executive team in creating a safe environment that rewards risk-taking, and rewards new ideas even if they threaten to cannibalize existing products or compete with the current organizational structure.

Most companies that successfully achieve repetitive innovation have created a culture where innovation and traditional teams coexist and compliment each other. Such companies have also learned how to create and maintain the innovation culture to entice and retain people considered “top talent.

By studying lessons learned from top innovators and a wealth of consulting experiences from the author, disciplines evolve to assist in the creation of a culture of innovation and to hire and retain top talent:

  1. Assess current goals and strategies for customer centricity. Enhance statements, documentation, distribution materials, education and practices to reflect a renewed focus on the customer. Create an aggressive plan for change and speed of delivery.
  2. Strategize with HR on how to create a culture of innovation specific to your company and unique within your industry. Determine ways to     incorporate fun into the work environment. Identify appropriate rewards and recognition.
  3. Educate the management team in innovation management and models, on company values and strategy and how to hire “A” and “B” players. Train them to develop competencies, monitor work and continually look for opportunities to improve “C,” or below, performance levels. A guiding coalition is essential.

High-tech companies that are top innovators today have the advantage of launching their new organizations around current trends and capabilities. But do larger, established companies, those fighting years of ingrained business practices, have the same opportunity to achieve innovation?

A case in point is Proctor & Gamble, a large, successful conglomerate that began in 1837 by selling soap and candles. In 2000, A.G. Lafley became CEO and set out to instill innovation into the culture. According to the book, The Game-Changer, by Mr. Lafley and Ram Charan, consider the results since 2000:

  • “Sales more than doubled, from $39 billion to $80 billion
  • Billion dollar brands increased from 10 to 24
  • Brands with sales between $500 million and $1 billion grew from 4 to 18”

Shining a light on leading innovators such as Proctor & Gamble and a few high tech companies, provides insights into building a 21st century culture of innovation and how to attract and retain the brightest and best talent. From research, pictures emerge of the unique talent and ideas found in innovation leader companies that have direct applicability to any and every type of company.

The light reveals an important discipline and critical awareness: a focus on people. It’s the people and teamwork that make the difference.

One of the best top executives who the author worked for adopted the mantra that if you treat people well, they will work their heart out for you. What was his definition of treating people well?

A few examples include regularly stopping by managers’ offices to talk about and resolve issues, collaboratively sorting through priorities and decisions to identify opportunities for greatest impact and reward, creating R&D projects and allowing others to lead them and providing leadership development through recognition, and speaking in meetings with customers and with top executives. These disciplines generated respect and values as we hired new people and built new capabilities. That approach is certainly supported by the culture at top innovator companies.

Having worked on many dynamic teams in launching new technology or creating a new entity following a large-scale corporate acquisition, it is amazing what dynamic teams can accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. They are energized by working together, show immediate signs of results and progress, and they are not easily dismayed by problems and setbacks. Oftentimes, dynamic teams are built for one-time projects, but the real power for companies lies in the ability to continuously develop individual top talent and dynamic teams to achieve extraordinary results.

But wait! Is there more? The disciplines of customer centricity, creating a culture of both fun and hard work, reward and recognition when combined with a focus on hiring and retaining top talent are foundational guides. But there is much more to consider and learn. There are a few more disciplines, and without them, you might just create, well, a monster of a problem.

By Kathy Mast

About the author

Kathy Mast is the president of Kathy Mast Consulting. Kathy has 20+ years’ experience in innovation management through leadership in business and technology and includes developing and implementing new software products for 250+ global companies and collaborating with C-level executives to achieve success through innovation. Today, Kathy’s work is focused on consulting, writing and speaking on her proven methodology for innovation and organizational change to enable talented people to contribute their best.