Creating a culture of innovation

Creating a culture of innovation
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Over the past 12 months I have witnessed friends and acquaintances taking advantage of present day digital tools to monetise their hobbies as a secondary source of income and as an avenue for self-expression.

Against this transforming landscape of employment and self-actualisation, businesses need to act to empower and inspire these same creative souls to drive competitive advantage for their brands.

Ultimately, every company's identity is shaped by the way its employees think and behave. Under management who focus solely on the financial aspects of the business, creative people can struggle, and as a result distance themselves, physically and emotionally, from larger companies in search of greater autonomy and purpose.

To retain and attract these valuable employees, companies need to engage them in a quest for innovation—but how?

Branding at its best influences how every employee thinks and acts. If a brand wants to position itself as a force of innovation, it needs to put innovation at the heart of its operations by engaging its workforce around values that support creativity and experimentation.

In A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink writes that we live in a conceptual age, an era where purely left-brain thinking (logical, analytical, and objective thinking) is quickly becoming irrelevant.

The innovative spirit of the conceptual age is having a profound effect on existing jobs; the world is changing at such a pace that in every company, in any category, every worker is going to be asked not to just do their job, but to reinvent or reengineer how their jobs can be done.

This shift will require companies to completely rethink how they engage with employees. After all, employees are the brand advocates who will ultimately define and deliver the customer experience.

Internal brand engagement projects are always challenging and multi-layered, but with these three steps, a brand can put the wheels in motion towards fostering a culture of innovation:

1. Align the purpose and beliefs of the business with those of your employees

Creating a culture of innovation begins with engaging employees in an organisation’s purpose. Research shows that when employees feel a company’s beliefs mirror their own, turnover decreases and performance increases. Making employees an integral part of the brand’s purpose leads to higher engagement levels and more creative results.

However, creating a compelling purpose that motivates employees is not easy. The company needs to play an active role. More and more, we are seeing brands kick start initiatives to foster the link between company values and individual values. In Australia, digital media company Mi9 recently released its people manifesto, a 36-page declaration that challenges people to think about their personal beliefs before applying to work at the agency – and if your beliefs don’t match, then you won’t find the job appealing.

2. Demonstrate what brand purpose means to each of your employees

Brand purpose needs to be meaningful for everyone. At its best, a well-articulated purpose should be every employee’s motivation for creativity and big-picture thinking.

When Landor works with companies on building their brand purpose, the first thing we do is help create a plan for getting employee support behind the changes. This begins by clearly explaining how the changes will benefit employees. Then a company must demonstrate how an employee is essential to its brand purpose. When employees understand their value to the company, the company will receive more commitment and creative output.

3. Begin questioning everything the brand is doing

Once a brand has its employees’ attention, the next step is evaluating how its existing processes line up with its purpose and beliefs. According to professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, companies fail when they do everything by the existing order. If companies really want to drive innovation, it requires a significant commitment to reassessing existing paradigms.

For a brand to turn itself into an innovation leader, it must motivate its talent by reevaluating its values and purpose.

A company’s first priority should be communicating that purpose to its employees, as they are tasked with delivering it.

When employees believe and understand their role in the brand’s vision – and feel that they too can shape it – a spirit of innovation will inspire them to contribute creatively.

Richard Swain is a senior strategist at Landor Associates, Sydney. 

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