Along with helping teams and the company overcome hard times, an innovation culture can also be a powerful tool to retain the top-tier employees, since they will feel they share in shaping the future of the organization. But, how do you know whether your company is allowing this type of culture? And, how can you help your team continue to cultivate innovation in your small or medium business throughout the years?
Take a look below, where we share some of the characteristics that shape a culture of innovation, along with tips to establish and maintain the culture in your own SMB.
Employees share ideas
If your employees are being encouraged to share their ideas, and there is a process to share those ideas, then chances are your company is embracing a culture of innovation. For staff to feel comfortable sharing their ideas openly, they must trust each other and their leaders. In our experience, this could be the most important aspect of the culture to work out. Employees that trust each other and can trust their management team keep each other accountable to continue steering the company towards growth.
To build trust, your employees need to be able to understand their own strengths and limitations and those of their colleagues. Once a team can identify the mix of skills available in the community, it's easier for them to innovate. Because they will be well-informed of the capabilities of the entire team, staff will be more confident while taking the risks necessary to explore new ideas and experiences. This knowledge and confidence will empower teams to create innovative solutions, products, and services.
Teams learn from each experience
Leadership encourages and coaches their teams, so that individual contributors take calculated risks. If this is the case in your organization, you are probably allowing a culture of innovation. Remember, a certain degree of failure throughout each process is likely inevitable, but it is necessary in order for growth to occur. Collaborators thriving in a culture of innovation understand that failing is okay, so long as they are learning from the experience and pivoting to improve during the next round of innovation.
To ensure your leadership team is encouraging and coaching their units to take calculated risks, we recommend you set the example. For instance, you can lead debrief sessions, where your team discusses lessons learned from a recent project and how they will use the lessons to approach a similar situation in the future. If you also make sure to document and share these learning experiences with the wider organization, it will be more clear to junior and mid-level staff that experimentation with the objective of finding the best possible solution is encouraged and welcome.
Leadership rewards creativity and experimentation
If you and your management team are rewarding creativity and experimentation in your company operations, you’re likely championing an innovation culture. Publicly acknowledging and celebrating the benefits of experimentation can encourage more teams and individual members to embrace this mindset. Implementing internal awards and recognition programs in your company may help to both encourage repeat innovation cycles from teams already innovating and invite hesitant collaborators to explore outside of their conventional practices.
Organizational structure favors innovation
If your staff and leadership engage and exchange ideas frequently, it’s likely your organizational structure is favoring innovation. Open lines of communication between management and the rest of the team is crucial for a culture of innovation to develop, so flattening your organizational structure is one way to champion innovation in your SMB. Shared decision-making, where groups who are overseeing the innovation projects have the power to truly delegate and make decisions is another sign of an organizational structure that favors innovation.
In our experience, to model an innovative organizational structure for your team, it’s best to frequently initiate contact with individual contributors directly. This will shorten the distance between you and the collaborators who are executing in the different units, help keep you informed, and allow you to encourage teams to experiment and pursue new ideas on your behalf. We also recommend coaching your leadership teams to model similar behavior, delegate tasks, and encourage autonomy in their teams, so they are working smarter, not harder.
Operations are willing to go digital
Are your people willing to shift from traditional to digital business processes? If so, you are supporting an innovation culture. Deciding to go digital can be the first step toward spreading innovation culture into other areas of the company, rather than containing it in your company’s IT unit. Even if your company is taking slow steps towards digitizing operations, this is a great way to begin experimentation and encourage learning from mistakes. Switching from desktop word processing software to cloud-based tools that improve collaboration is one way to ease your more traditional employees into embracing technology.
Once your wider team is more comfortable using technology, you can begin implementing more complex IT innovations. For example, adopting a customer relationship management system to gather all sales and marketing data in one place is one way that can help to align technology innovation with your business goals. Adopting new tools will require empowering your employees with the resources they need to succeed, so we recommend you take into account their training needs, so that people can make the best use of your IT infrastructure.
Employees feel empowered
When people feel empowered with all the resources they need to innovate, this is a good sign that they’re operating within a culture of innovation. If this is the case in your organization, you’re on the right track.
CTNext, a state-backed agency that helps startups and early-stage businesses grow in Connecticut, has fully embraced this concept. The agency develops programs and provides funding for entrepreneurs, startups, and innovators to foster innovation in the state. CTNext recently hired a new CEO, and his goal is to position the state as a leading innovation ecosystem. He plans to do this by channeling an existing program called Innovation Places, a multi-year initiative to catalyze growth in technology and entrepreneurship in Connecticut’s urban centers, and by expanding CTNext’s partner network.
What can Connecticut SMB leaders like you learn from this?
Innovation culture takes time to develop, and making sure you continuously keep innovation at top of mind will ensure that you can maintain it as the new status quo. As mentioned earlier, the more you set up employees for success with the right tools and the right training, the more they will be willing to innovate, adopt technology, and produce high-value results. Sometimes providing the right resources means connecting your employees with the correct external partners to help them succeed. When it comes to technology, this may mean you consider consulting with a managed services provider, or MSP, for help.
Nurturing an innovation culture brings multiple returns
Culture in a business emerges from a system of shared beliefs, values, and expectations. Establishing an innovation culture in an SMB can be challenging, but when achieved, it brings with it plenty of advantages that will set your company apart from the competition. Maintaining your innovation culture is essential for the continued growth of your company in many regards. With a culture of innovation, you will have more fulfilled employees, that are creating better solutions, for happier customers, who will sing your praises to their peers.
Dealing with IT in-house could distract the team from innovating in their own realms, whereas allowing your top innovators to focus on their bread and butter could bring multiple returns for your SMB. One way to do this is to hire an experienced MSP like NSI to help improve business operations and outcomes using IT. To find out how we can partner to accomplish this, contact us today.