3 Tips to Foster a Culture of Innovation at Work
Wish your organization was more innovative? Here are three tips that could help you be an effective change agent at work.
Meet Jane – She’s a smart, motivated mid-level manager trained in design thinking and always looking for fresh, innovative ways to get things done. But Jane works in a large “traditional” company, and not everyone in the organization thinks like her.
Instead, her company approaches projects through the same comfortable, streamlined execution they have used for decades. Jane’s efforts are seen as a threat to the status quo, so time and time again, her efforts slam into the same frustrating walls: “This is not how we do things here…”, “We don’t have time for this …”
Despite the resistance, Jane deeply believes the organization would benefit from a culture that more attentively listens to intrapreneurs, encourages collaboration, inspires creativity and embodies empathy.
At the Design and Co-Innovation Center (DCC), we’ve met a number of people like Jane. As a design agency within SAP, we work closely with customers on award-winning strategic design and co-innovation projects. Since 2012, the DCC has been part of over 450 design and customer co-innovation projects – many of them award-winning – across a variety of industries. (Learn more about our design approach here)
Our clients are consistently energized by the DCC’s – and, more broadly, SAP’s – culture. Many come away asking: “Why can’t all my project teams work this way?”
We think it’s an important question, so in turn we’ve asked ourselves: How can we help Jane (or someone like Jane) overcome barriers to be an effective agent of change within their organization and foster a culture of innovation?
Here are 3 tips that can help you get started.
Tip #1: Articulate Value
Recently, design-thinking has become a popular buzz word and a hot topic for media outlets. While it might be tempting to point to these sources and evangelize design for its own sake, we recommend you think carefully about how to approach the subject, always making sure to stress business value.
Several recent studies have espoused the value of design and design thinking in organizations. One of them, the DMI report, is an excellent source of hard evidence. It shows that when it comes to shareholder value, design-driven organizations have outperformed the S&P by 219% over the past 10 years. The report further notes that such companies go beyond using design as a service, seeing it instead as a catalyst for organizational change that drives business strategy and leads to sustainable innovation.
Another resource you can lean on is the UX calculator: a tool the DCC created to help estimate the ROI of UX and design efforts in terms of increased productivity, decreased training and support costs, reduction or elimination of user errors, and increased product adoption and user satisfaction.
Speaking the language of your audience is always an effective way to win trust and gain influence, so a smart first step to enacting change in your organization is to articulate the business value it will have.
Tip #2: Customize Your Innovation Program
When it comes to innovation, every organization has different strengths and barriers. So, customizing your program is essential.
To help, we’ve developed a free tool through the Innovation Readiness Initiative that gauges how far along an organization is in the innovating process – from interested, invested, engaged or scaled – and recommends strategies to overcome barriers.
While the details of each company’s innovation plan may vary, we’ve identified three essential pillars to fostering a culture of innovation: people, process and place.
An organization needs the right mix of design skills and team members with a mindset for design-led innovation. In addition, executive support is essential to ensure that design is treated as a priority at the company.
Process refers to the way in which people collaborate, discover problems and co-create with end users to solve them. It is essential that this iterative and human-centered process is applied to development and business problems alike.
The physical work place plays a key role in fostering innovation and creativity. Teams need dedicated spaces where they can collaborate, iterate and co-innovate with end users and customers on projects.
How innovative is your organization? Find out by taking our 15-minute assessment at fosterinnovationculture.com.
Tip #3: Prepare for a Journey
While assessment and customization is important, these are only the first steps in a long journey. All the well-intentioned planning and execution of a strategy will mean nothing if the intangibles of culture – the beliefs, sense of purpose and expectations – within your organization don’t change. And, as all the Janes out there surely know, cultural change does not happen over-night, especially in large, well-established companies that are used to doing business a certain way.
At SAP, we have been on this journey for over a decade. Co-founder Hasso Plattner has been a vocal proponent of design (he has invested personal wealth to found the Stanford d.school, also known as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) and is responsible for the first efforts to change the company from within. Despite this high-level support since the early 2000s, SAP remained an engineering-driven company until recently. Culture change must be top-down and bottom up, and that takes time.
SAP has since invested in more designers, trained more people in design thinking, adapted the product development process to make time for empathy, collaboration and iteration, changed the physical environments to encourage creativity and appointed Dr. Sam Yen as SAP’s first Chief Design Officer. These decade-spanning efforts have helped SAP become the company it is today: a design-centric, innovation leader defining the way the world works in the 21st century.
Cultural change is a significant paradigm shift, but achievable if you articulate the business value, customize your innovation program, and prepare for a journey. To start down the path, leverage our free resources on fosterinnovationculture.com.
To paraphrase Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed intrapreneurs can change the culture of even the largest, most established companies. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.