Successful innovation is only possible when an organization’s strategy, culture and capabilities are all aligned. An innovation strategy unsupported by or in conflict with either capabilities or culture is doomed to fail. The most challenging to align are strategy and culture.
Imagine Albert Einstein working for you. Or Thomas Edison. Would their ideas flourish in your culture—in your work environment? If you can’t imagine their brilliant minds reaching their full potential within your organization, as it exists today, how can you imagine anyone reaching their creative potential in your current environment?
Culture directs and rewards behaviors and traits that remain in compliance with deep seated organizational values—those everybody knows and shares, as well as those unspoken—and punishes those outside. As MIT psychology professor Edgar Schein writes in his book, Organizational Culture and Leadership, (Jossey-Bass, 2010) “culture determines and limits strategy.”
Many organizations like to proclaim they have a culture that supports innovation. More likely, they’re confusing intention with action. They want to have a culture that supports innovation, so they think they do. They don’t.
When their culture is aligned with a strategy for innovation, organizations make a point of recognizing and supporting employees who think creatively and share new ideas. They encourage experimentation, tolerate risk and accept that failures line the path to success. They even reward employees when their new ideas hit the jackpot.
Which do you work on first when culture and strategy are misaligned? Since innovation strategy will only ever be as good as the culture within which it exists, adopting innovative behaviors must come first. As Jonathan Groves and Carrie Brown wrote in their paper, The Lean Newsroom: A Manifesto for Risk, (Taylor & Francis, 2016) “Organizations must develop new routines that fit in the context of the existing culture and nudge members toward a culture that embraces innovation.”
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