You don’t become an innovative company by hiring a few people to work on it while everybody else goes through the motions

When was the last time you came across an organization with a digital department? I’m willing to bet it was quite some time ago. After all, now that digital i inherent in all aspects of business separating it as a distinct function makes little sense. It’s simply intrinsic to everything.

But what about innovation? In the transformative age, surely this should be similarly fundamental. However, while most companies recognize its importance, many continue to view innovation as a bolt-on — a specialist function by a small, secret society of innovation experts who then tell the rest of the organization the latest, greatest way to grow the business.

Yet, true innovation doesn’t happen in a black box away from the prying eyes of the masses. It’s open, transparent and collaborative. It’s part of everyone’s mindset and responsibility.

It’s a culture.

Nearly every company I work with views innovation as a strategic imperative. But being an innovative company is very different from being a company with an innovation function. In one case, innovation is ingrained in all aspects of operations — from organizational structure and recruitment strategy to how the business communicates with customers, staff and stakeholders. In the other, it’s just another box on an organogram.

Of course, this kind of deep-rooted cultural transformation doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s about much more than putting ping-pong tables in reception, offering free lunches or building open workspaces.

Part of my role involves fostering innovation throughout our consulting practice, giving me firsthand experience of the challenges, opportunities and, yes, frustrations of becoming an innovative company. Yet, from our ability to adapt to changing market conditions and empower our people to ideate and collaborate with clients, the benefits are already being felt across the company.

So, here are my top five tips for how organizations of all shapes, sizes and sectors can adopt a true culture of innovation.

1. Lead but don’t legislate.

As with any transformation program, moving to a culture of innovation requires strong leadership and a clear vision for change that employees can buy into and collectively deliver.

But leading doesn’t mean directing. If people feel supported and inspired to change rather than mandated to do so from above, they’re more likely to feel connected to the company’s future and empowered to help shape it. Far from the traditional waterfall approach, businesses should be looking to create a situation where their people evolve the journey themselves.

Read More of this article by David Nichols here.