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Thomas Davies


Founder & CEO

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How to nurture a company culture that embraces creativity and innovation

Creativity only thrives in the right organisational culture.

Creativity within the workforce encompasses a wide range of benefits, from new commercial opportunities, to sophisticated problem solving – even in the most complex and consverative organisations. All too often, however, creativity is confused with sitting on bean bags and scribbling on post-its. While there’s a lot to be said for having your own creative spaces and processes, these can only thrive in the right culture.

Culture can’t change overnight – it takes time and effort to turn new behaviours into positive habits.

So the fundamental question to ask yourself when trying to tap into employee creativity is: ‘have I created a workplace that allows creativity to be explored, to emerge and then to thrive?’ Mandating that people ‘be creative’ never works. Instead, give employees scope to experiment, take a controlled approach to failure, and ensure your workforce continues to learn from these efforts.

In a decade working at Google, I learnt that creativity, innovation and transformation – each more critical today than ever before – are tied to organisational agility. You can’t expect dynamic, exciting outcomes if your business is oriented against change.

Creating a culture that’s ready for creativity

Getting your business ready to nurture a more curious, open and creative environment is no magic trick. It does, however, rely on getting the basics right. That’s why we spend a lot of time helping organisations understand and evolve their business culture. It’s important to identify the behaviours, people and processes that are encouraging or inhibiting organisational innovation and to integrate the positive practices into your everyday operations.

An open minded approach to creativity and innovation

Some sectors and markets readily lend themselves to new products or services being initiated by proactive and creative employees. In other more complex or traditional sectors this may not be possible.

Go-to market strategies, employee motivation initiatives or customer retention mechanisms are example improvements that are universally open to creative thinking. In decades consulting to global technology firms, giants of manufacturing, public sector organisations and emerging disruptors, I’ve yet to find a business that didn’t have room for improvement. The changes they make are never entirely predictable, meaning it’s important to keep the door open to unexpected new ideas.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses within your business culture

Once you’re open to new ideas from within your team, you have to ask if your team is actually open to providing them. Be brave enough to critique your own organisational culture and leadership style. Listen to different levels within the business to understand whether people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, or investing time in new approaches. Organisations need to discover:

  • Whether your workforce understands the opportunities and challenges faced by the business.
  • Do you enable experimentation? Are employees given scope to ‘fail fast and iterate’ – while doing so in a supportive culture?
  • If your line management structures and role-based objectives encourage innovative thinking.
  • Are the tools available for idea sharing, e.g. platforms such as Slack and Asana, or collaborative working in Google GSuite or Microsoft Office 365?
  • If people have either the freedom to allocate some time to their own ideas, or even designated pockets within their managed hours?

Prioritise the changes you need to make

When you’ve undertaken this self-audit, there’s no point trying to change everything on day one. Culture can’t change overnight – it takes time and effort to turn new behaviours into positive habits. So be careful to build your strategy around a series of building blocks that can be rolled out over time, or delivered in a series of sprints.

Every organisation will need to develop its own strategy, and to back up words with actions. This means having the values, behaviours, processes and technology/tools to deliver the desired outcome. Some examples of positive changes we’ve seen businesses take to embed a more creative culture within core processes include:

  • Clear communication at all levels of leadership about the objectives of the business, and where you want to get to in future.
  • Strong internal communications initiatives around innovation and the role everyone is invited to play.
  • Empowerment of teams to design initiatives that have impact across lines of business.
  • Initiate new training and development opportunities, or ensure maximum access and uptake of existing programmes.
  • Explore workload management techniques to give people bandwidth for creativity.
  • With a suitable business case in place, invest in and role out new collaborative technologies to nurture improved creative interaction.

Ensure your team is aligned

Processes and technologies are only as good as people’s willingness to engage with them. So when it comes to creativity, be clear in your expectations of others. Identify culture champions and influencers (generally not at leadership level) who can help drive a culture change programme. Empower them to act to the best of their ability, and in the best interests of the organisation.

Misalignment of efforts is a surprisingly common pitfall for organisations that are seeking greater innovation. So if everyone has a set of shared values, and common understanding of creative expectations, it removes a lot of the fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Keep a broad awareness of the impact of change

As you roll out your strategy, continue to observe what’s happening within your organisation. It’s disastrous to use outdated insights when looking at innovation culture. Keep taking the pulse of the workforce, measuring against key milestones and, where needed, updating your strategy. Continuous insights are invaluable.

Be transparent about progress and be ready to evolve the strategy

Finally, be transparent about what success looks like so that when it happens it can be celebrated and replicated. It also means that if it doesn’t happen, the real solution won’t remain hidden. Cultural change is difficult to manage, so you need to celebrate and amplify key wins. Don’t be put off if/when you meet roadblocks – it happens to the best of organisations.

There’s no magic formula to achieving increased creativity. By investing in your organisational culture at all levels, however, you can give people the tools, motivation and support to surprise you with their creative value.

Interested in this topic? Read How to create lasting cultural change.

One Response

  1. Thank you Thomas for the
    Thank you Thomas for the clarity and structure of your article.

    I’d like to offer a different perspective, one that all HR professionals will relate to and in my view goes deeper and beyond the ’embed a more creative culture within core processes’ framework.

    Whilst we all want digitally enabled and culturally empowered teams and leaders aligning and working with more creativity and innovation, the key to all culture change sits in one word – TRUST.

    It’s the belief that it’s safe to try, safe to fall, safe to try again, that outperforms values, metrics and processes 365 days of the year.

    To forge trust, requires ‘inner-leadership’ and the types of ‘service leadership’ that models vulnerability blended with boldness, the type of HR thinking that moves beyond the status quo paradigm in order to create genuine ‘new frontier’ cultures.

    To show that we are allowed to ‘test and iterate’ means encouraging mistakes rather than tolerating them. Empowerment will only take hold when leaders and people of key influence model this.

    I recall telling a team I was leading through a culture-change programme that if they are not making mistakes then we are not doing well enough. “Please make mistakes, own them and share them so that we can learn from them” I implored them. I wanted mistakes because without the failures and the learnings, we weren’t sailing close enough to the wind to find genuine edge and breakthough solutions.

    So yes, all the ideas around comms that connects and improved communications top-down and bottom-up are essential ingredients but they are not foundational. Trust in yourself and trust in others is the only recipe for creating a genuine creativity and innovation culture – the rest are all details.

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Thomas Davies

Founder & CEO

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