Every year, IdeaScale asks our customers what their main priorities are for the coming year, and without fail one of the top two priorities is to create a culture of innovation. Every innovation thought leader, every organizational engagement specialist, every pundit or leader in transformation says that this is the secret to avoiding disruption.

Unfortunately, as most of you know, a culture of innovation is not as simple as an on/off switch, a policy update, or installing some new software—innovation culture requires multiple approaches and cross-organizational collaboration. But there are a few pillars that can help direct that work.

Leadership Alignment

Like so many transformational efforts, success depends on the leaders. This means that the first step is ensuring that all leaders understand the importance of innovation, no matter their department or job description. Once they understand the innovation imperative, they need to work to encourage their teams to participate in the innovation process and give them the resources to do so—mainly through training and time. Finally, to ensure an innovation-friendly culture, management needs to create the shared expectation by developing the next part…

Innovation-Friendly Policies

Our best customers will embed innovation expectations and metrics in their employee handbooks and use that as a touchpoint during annual reviews. But sometimes it’s also about articulating the approach to things like failure—is it celebrated or something to be hidden?—or coaching how to respond to new ideas or feedback. It is definitely best when these policies can be put down in writing and introduced during onboarding.

Shared Language, Processes, and Resources

Just because something happens in the creative space, doesn’t meant that it lacks discipline. That’s why some sort of training is required so that everyone can use the same language to express innovation, understand the criteria that makes a good idea, and know how to access resources for them to experiment and try new concepts. It empowers people to take action when they see an opportunity, but also to be more disciplined about moving on from a concept that doesn’t mean organizational missions.

Benchmarks and Metrics

Every innovative workplace has to clearly define their metrics and set goals. But more important than setting those goals, is reporting on them regularly. This means pointing to innovation inputs (leading indicators) and outputs (lagging indicators) in all company meetings or some sort of transparent dashboard so that teams are accountable for participating in the process.

Embrace Diversity

There is a growing body of research that has drawn a direct link between organizations with high levels of diversity and high levels of innovation. Employees at those companies report that the organizations are 45% more likely to experience market share growth in one year, and 70% more likely to win over a new market. Diversity alone is not enough, however: everyone needs to feel empowered to have a voice at the table. And never confuse collaboration with consensus. Disagreement is a powerful tool to create bigger ideas that can be transformative.

Workforce Engagement

Great organizations don’t base their innovation strategy on a small group of smart individuals. They know that leading in innovation means listening to others, mentoring emerging intrapreneurs, and finding ways to invite anyone into the innovation process. For large organizations, this often means launching an innovation management solution that allows anyone, anywhere to participate in the innovation process transparently, no matter what job they have, what language they speak, and what role they want to play in the rest of the innovation process.

To launch a culture of innovation at your organization, sign up to a hold a complimentary innovation best practices training session for your innovation leaders here. 

About the Author

Rob Hoehn is the co-founder and CEO of IdeaScale: the largest open innovation software platform in the world. Hoehn launched crowdsourcing software as part of the open government initiative and IdeaScale’s robust portfolio now includes many other industry notables, such as EA Sports, NBC, NASA, Xerox and many others. Prior to IdeaScale, Hoehn was Vice President of Client Services at Survey Analytics.



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