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The Three Elements that Underpin a Culture of Innovation

Foster the right environment, put targeted development plans in place, and create transparent and egalitarian processes to generate and develop new ideas

R&D teams, and those that advise them, have spent a lot of time working out ways to create and enforce a “culture of performance” (including in this corner of the world) but relatively little has been written on the topic of pragmatically building a culture of innovation that will be sustainable over time.

There are some organizations that are renowned for doing this of course such as 3M with its 100+ year history, but these are few and far between.

CEB recently interviewed 100s of heads of R&D (or innovation) and chief technology officers – and their teams – to understand what tried practices make or break a culture of innovation. Naturally, there were different answers and ideas, however, the results broadly clustered into three main dimensions: environment, talent, and process (see chart 1).


Key elements of a culture of innovation

Chart 1: Key elements of a culture of innovation  Source: CEB analysis


There are many tactics from each of the categories that companies can use to strengthen their own innovation cultures, including the following.

  1. Environment: Give permission to challenge assumptions; create openness to new ideas (internal and external); and give freedom to experiment, fail, and learn.

  2. Talent: Put targeted training and development in place for innovation; set innovation performance objectives and management culture; and put together diverse teams.

  3. Process: Consider broad sources for idea generation and be egalitarian in selection; ensure R&D teams are part of strategic growth conversations; and have a process to incubate innovative concepts.

There are in fact a total of 27 of these kinds of “drivers” pivotal to building a culture of innovation; CEB Research & Development Leadership Council members can use a diagnostic to assess their own organization’s culture of innovation.

 

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