Fostering a Culture of Innovation: Top-Down Directive, Bottom-Up Initiative

Fostering a Culture of Innovation: Top-Down Directive, Bottom-Up Initiative

In today’s hyper-competitive globalized economy, companies large and small have had to come to terms with the fact that innovation is nowadays crucial to solidifying their place in the market and guaranteeing long-term success. 

In today’s hyper-competitive globalized economy, companies large and small have had to come to terms with the fact that innovation is nowadays crucial to solidifying their place in the market and guaranteeing long-term success.  From Google’s 20% policy to Toyota and 3M’s encouragement of cross-functional teams, more and more businesses are adopting the strategy of integrating innovation into their company culture. 

In fact, 55% of 1,378 chief executives in more than 90 territories state that the key aspects affecting their growth prospects is an inability to innovate properly, the conclusion being that they need to upskill their corporate culture. Maybe your company is mature on the subject of prioritising a culture of innovation, maybe you already have a said strategy in place, or maybe you have no idea where to start. This article will aim to provide a deployment roadmap on how to foster a culture of innovation within your company.

A Top-Down Directive, a Bottom-Up Initiative

When first attempting to create a culture of innovation within your company there is one key concept that is crucial to keep in mind, and which will frame your deployment roadmap. Simply put, fostering a culture of  innovation must be a top-down directive, while remaining a bottom-up initiative.

Why a Top-Down Directive?

The first step of creating a culture of innovation is getting top management onboard. For innovation initiatives to be successful, they need to stem from and be supported by top management. Innovation needs to be central to the company’s business strategy in order to ensure that it will be encouraged and implemented from top to bottom. Performance goals as well as compensation metrics should also be introduced to further instill a culture of innovation.

Why A Bottom Up Initiative?

It is necessary to change perspectives to see innovation as “not being the result of ‘extraordinary people’, but rather as the outcome of a methodical routine that relies on the capacities of ‘ordinary people’.” (Bolloré, 2018). Although it may be top management piloting the culture of innovation, innovation initiatives need to be driven from the bottom up, meaning all employees should be involved. Reasons why it is crucial to include everyone in the initiative can be boiled down to the following three: 

  1. People on the ground are the most capable to recognize relevant and pertinent opportunities. For example, Customer Support teams have a privileged position in helping shape the future of products as they are constantly hearing the persisting complaints and needs of end-users. 
  2. The broader the range of perspectives you can bring to a project, the more robust is the range of possible solutions to be discovered. In other words, diversity is a necessity.
  3. Lastly, the more experts who are involved in evaluating ideas, the faster the transition from the ideation phase to the operational implementation of solutions will be. 

The Deployment Roadmap

There needs to be a clearly defined strategy around innovation to align the diverse perspectives that will be embarked in innovating. This aids in preventing different parts of the company pursuing conflicting agendas and squandering precious resources, making efforts to innovate mute. This leads us to the first point of the deployment roadmap.

Establish What Innovation Means to the Corporation

Before communicating the initiative, top management needs to be clear on why innovation is crucial to the company’s business model. Innovation can mean completely different things depending on a company’s industry, product, and market. Therefore, before a company can begin motivating employees to innovate, clear goals need to be defined to drive this initiative.  This “why” needs to be the center of all communication around innovation, as it is what will allow a company to focus and drive initiatives around a central theme.

Define Which Canvas to Throw Paint At

Once top management determines the “why”, they need to determine the “how”: the framework within which collaborators can or should innovate. The goal here should be to inspire collaboration while instilling individual accountability and autonomy. This means creating an environment where collaborators have a designated space and time dedicated to innovation.

Name Your Champions, Locate Your Ambassadors

Once the “why” and “how” of innovation within your corporation has been defined, it is time to get everyone on board. Like with any deployment strategy, one of the easiest ways to diffuse your initiative is to locate your ambassadors or champions: employees who are ready to position themselves as “innovation relays” within each team or department. These “champions” don’t specifically need to be in hierarchical positions of leadership, it is actually preferable if they are not. The most effective champions are those that have an interest in innovation and encourage their fellow team members to participate in innovation initiatives. These champions should also encompass all aspects outlined above in the bottom-up initiative section i.e., individuals on the ground, representing diverse backgrounds and expertise.  

Reward Success, Celebrate Failure

Once a company begins onboarding its departments, it is time to ensure that those embarked in this initiative will stay motivated to contribute to its success. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to create a culture of rewarding success while celebrating failure. Those launching innovative initiatives need to feel that they are heard, supported, and rewarded, regardless of whether an initiative fails. Most companies think of putting in place performance goals and/or compensation metrics to reward best innovation practices. However, recognizing failure and embracing it is just as important as recognizing successes. In fact, companies with the strongest cultures of innovation celebrate failure, from Google to startup’s organising F*ckup Nights. As Einstein so wisely put it “a person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new.”


Overcoming Internal Resistance to Open Innovation

Overcoming Internal Resistance to Open Innovation

Understanding why employees feel resistant to open innovation will help you create an effective strategy for overcoming internal pushback. 

Due to its complexity, you might find some pushback from collaborators when it comes to introducing open innovation in your corporation. There will be collaborators, who are uncomfortable with the notion of opening up your organization’s process. 

Understanding why employees feel resistant to open innovation will help you create an effective strategy for overcoming internal pushback. Preparing for this internal resistance to open innovation will be key to the success of new strategy.

The Non-Open-Innovators: Afraid, Threatened, and Skeptical of Open Innovation

Not everyone in your corporation will catch the open innovation bug. Many employees are afraid of the unknown. Anxiety towards change can lead them to resist open innovation. 

Other employees will be threatened by the change in method and procedure. Perhaps, they feel they might be left out if a new innovation process is implemented. 

This is especially true for R&D and innovation teams, these teams are the ones most sensitive to changes in the innovation process (e.i. innovation is their sole job function, having more employes involved could make them feel threatened).

Others will be skeptical of the open innovation process itself. In most cases, skeptical collaborators aren’t comfortable with sharing their ideas, testing them outside their teams, or are concerned with privacy.

Internal Communication: If You Communicate About Open Innovation Enough, it Will Become the Norm

A powerful tool for overcoming internal resistance to open innovation is your internal communication channels. Regardless if it’s your intranet, employee newsletter, or bulletin board, you should use all your channels to communicate your message. 

The reason why you want to implement open innovation needs to be disseminated throughout your corporation. Only when employees understand why your corporation have decided to implement a new process, will they be more willing to follow you.

The key is to continuously communicate about open innovation. Frequent communication will result in it becoming the norm. Your employees will slowly start becoming more at ease with the idea of open innovation.

Inspire Open Innovation: Use Open Innovation Events and Workshops to Excite

Companies should host Open Innovation Days to showcase their progress in innovation, demonstrate that it works, and inspire teams. Focus on highlighting innovation projects from cross-functional teams, as well as, from external partnerships. 

Workshops have similar results, they encourage creativity, reduce uncertainty, and most importantly, workshops improve the skills of collaborators. Use workshops to build confidence. If you prepare and give your teams the right training and tools, your chances of inciting open innovation increases.

Break Down Organizational Resistance: Innovation is the Responsibility of All

In large corporations, roles are well defined and teams usually tend to stick to their own expertise and functions. This leads to innovation being the responsibility of just R&D or innovation teams. 

However, for open innovation to be truly successful, you must break down organizational resistance. The myth that innovation is only the responsibility of certain departments needs to be upended. The more diverse your innovation teams are the better results you will achieve.

Focus on relaying the message that innovation is the responsibility of all departments. This will help you break down barriers between departments.

Influence Open Innovation: Use Ambassadors to Encourage Open Innovation

Your collaborators are influenced by their peers. Identify ambassadors in your organization and use them to encourage skeptical collaborators. A few key ambassadors in each department will help motivate and spread the message of why open innovation is key to your company’s success. 

These ambassadors can set an important example, and will encourage others to be more willing to adopt new ways of innovating. Help your ambassadors by providing adequate training and education so you maximize their efforts.

Institutionalize Open Innovation: Make It Part of Your Corporate DNA

By making open innovation a central focus in your overall strategy and organizational structure, you not only send out a clear message to your employes that open innovation is important, but you also make it easier for them to participate. 

Facilitating the creation of cross-functional teams, as well as, making it easy for your corporation to work with external partners are two easy ways to begin institutionalizing innovation.

Help Non-Innovators Reduce Their Uneasiness to New Forms of Innovation

By tackling the areas in which your employees feel less at ease, you increase the chances of collaborators who are skeptical in joining the open innovation process. First, start by identifying the main factors for resistance and then plan a strategy to tackle each one.

Implementing a multi-faceted approach will lead to better and faster results. 

Just like in any transition phase, you might have to assure your employees that open innovation is the right innovation strategy for your corporation.