Recognise This! – Creating a culture of innovation requires hiring innovative people, setting a tone for innovation, measuring innovative success, and recognising progress along the way.

It’s beautiful Autumn here in New England. This weekend will be peak “leaf-peeping” season when our foliage will be the perfect blend of reds, oranges, yellows, rusts and greens. We will be overrun with tourists who, like me, are simply amazed by the beauty of Fall.

My family is hosting a last-hurrah cook-out before what promises to be a harsh Winter settles in. My kitchen counters are packed with many of the ingredients for our BBQ – boxes of macaroni and cheese, mayo for the coleslaw and potato salad, hot dogs, lemonade, queso cheese dip, and the makings for S’mores.

Besides ingredients for my cook-out, what else do the items on that list have in common? They’re all Kraft Foods products – Oscar Mayer hot dogs, Country Time lemonade, Jet-Puffed marshmallows (the really big ones that smoosh flat the best for extra gooey S’mores), Velveeta cheese for extra creamy queso dip. And since I’m the host on the hook for a great time with great food on Saturday, I’m particularly grateful for the innovation at Kraft Foods Group that makes this possible.

No, this isn’t a commercial for Kraft. But it is a sign of good timing. Seeing this post this morning on Intuit’s “The Fast Track” blog was kismet. In the post, Barry Calpino, vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Food Group, talks about how Kraft refocussed their culture of innovation.

Mr. Calpino speaks to three important steps in creating a culture of innovation:

1) Hire for innovation

“Our people are our competitive advantage. When we recruit, we’re always looking for a diverse profile of talent. Our objective is to bring together diverse talent and unique perspectives … which, in turn, drives innovation that reflects the needs of the consumers we serve.”

Hiring “innovative” people can be a bit daunting. What does that mean? What does that look like? Mr. Calpino offers an excellent approach – find people who look at the world a bit differently and who are different from the “norm.” One of the best arguments for “diversity” in the workplace is to create a greater atmosphere for innovation. Different people from different backgrounds and experiences bring different perspectives and often new approaches and solutions.

2) Set the tone for innovation

“Our business unit leaders set the tone and set the example with their sponsorship of innovation – and innovators. It’s important to have empathy to what it’s like to work in white space, given the high rate of failure… Culturally, it’s really about leadership and empathy – leaders signaling to innovators that they ‘get’ the pressure and stress. They’ve been there, and they are supportive and have their backs.”

You must lead by example. And there’s none better than your senior executives to set the example you want all employees to follow. Without failure, you can’t innovate. Not every new idea or concept works out. You must leave room for the trial, error, and iteration that ultimately leads to successful innovation.

3) Measure Innovation Success

“The most important thing is to drive hard against our agenda – and to track it and measure it. It’s one thing to emphasise innovating on traditional brands – it’s another to track it, measure it, and set goals against it. It must be more than talk. And when we have wins, it’s important to share those success stories, to show everyone what’s possible, and what’s achievable.”

The old saw “what gets measured gets managed” is very true. Little signals the importance of goal other than measuring progress towards achieving it.

And that leads to one final step in creating a culture of innovation that Mr. Calpino alludes to throughout the interview:

Recognise Innovation Progress Frequently and in a Timely Way

Recognition, at its core, is reinforcing for employees what behaviours, efforts and outcomes you want to see again and again. Particularly with innovation, you cannot recognise only ultimate success. In creating an innovative culture, you must also recognise and reward employees who take a chance, go out on a limb and… fail. But then learn from the failure, iterate, and try again. That’s recognising progress. That’s creating a culture in which innovation becomes second nature – because it’s praised and appreciated by everyone.

Does your company have a culture of innovation? How is it supported?

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