How to Jumpstart a Stalled Corporate Culture of Innovation

corporate culture of innovation

How often have you heard of a company being widely hailed as innovative in their field these days? It seems like everyone, especially in the startup world, wants to disrupt an industry, become a game changer, or spark a revolution in the hearts and minds of their consumers and competitors.

Unfortunately, chasing a buzzword without really understanding the deeper drivers of human behavior in organizations is not really the most effective way of achieving “disruptor status”.

Innovation is one of the most overused buzzwords today, and while the concept seems to arouse the keen attention of entrepreneurs and startups, it seldom gains any traction in larger, more established organizations.  Many startups flare and burn out in the quest for innovation. For large, established organizations, familiarity and current processes often outweigh the ability to drive it.

So, what does it mean to be innovative? [Tweet “How can your organization, no matter what size or industry, sustain a culture of innovation?”]

What Is Innovation, Really?

Many people think innovation is the process of being creative and coming up with new ideas.  But, these folks are missing the other key component of innovation- actually translating that creative vision into a product or service that adds value to someone else.

In for-profit business, this usually extends further to include the requirement that those other people are actually willing to pay money for such an innovation. If your only goal is to innovate without any sense of the reality of the market and of what is actually valuable to others, you are setting yourself up for failure.

In addition, a lot of people assume a company can “be innovative” by trying to inject a few innovative practices into their process. They may look at an innovative company like Apple or Treehouse, who have woven in innovative behaviors, and try to emulate those behaviors in their own organization.

As you may have guessed, this rarely works.

Companies that are truly innovative are not necessarily consciously doing things to “be innovative.” Rather, they value at their core, certain things that drive innovative behavior and the result is innovation.

It’s really a culture issue- something that resides in the deep recesses of the collective subconscious that guides people by saying, “Hey, these behaviors that are usually associated with innovation- those are really good behaviors in this organization and we really value them.”

Creating a culture of innovation is more about building an engine of employee behaviors within your organization. But, even the most well intentioned engines of innovation can stall unless you continuously provide the right fuel to support those behaviors.

How Do You Jumpstart Your Organization When Innovation Stalls?

A sure sign that the engine of innovation is stalling in your company is when most of your energy is focused on internal or established processes, while external factors in the market and competition are largely ignored.

If we consider Quinn and Rohrbaugh’s competing values framework, organizations who focus internally rather than balancing their focus between the internal and external sides of business may unintentionally set themselves up for failure in the long-term.

There is quite a bit of research on this topic that strongly suggests that the most sustainably successful organizations are those that are able to manage the dynamic tensions that exist between the internal and external components of their business.

Here are four ways you, as a leader, can help fuel a culture of innovation in your company:

Raise Awareness and Common Understanding

It all starts with helping people in the organization to develop some perspective around what organizational culture is and how it drives attitudes and behaviors to every corner of the company.

By raising common awareness, people are able to talk about why there isn’t really a silver bullet they can use to “be innovative.”  It’s more than just doing something differently- it goes to the core of what is valued and what isn’t. Without bringing this to light through common understanding and dialogue, innovation efforts may face a long, uphill battle as the current culture fights against the change.

Make a Collective Decision to Change

If your organization is focusing too much on the internal and you collectively agree that this is an issue; it’s time to make the decision to change.  Only when this decision is made and people are on board with the need will you open the door to begin the journey.

Being Intentional About Shifting Behavior

It’s not enough to just go forth and proclaim that people should now, all of a sudden, behave in new ways. People have survived and prospered for years by doing things a certain way and they aren’t likely to jump into a new way of being because you said so.

It’s going to take leaders getting out there and showing people that behaving in new ways that drive innovation is not only okay; it’s welcome.  They can show and reinforce that these behaviors are welcome by rewarding and recognizing those who exhibit them and not punishing those who try and fail.

Aligning existing systems and processes to incentivize exploration of new behaviors takes very careful thought and effort.

Give it Time

The current ways of doing things in your organization didn’t happen overnight and neither will large changes in behavior.  It will take time for people to be open to experimenting with new behaviors and it will take many iterations of the organization seeing that those new ways of doing things actually yield success.

Over time, as people realize that those new behaviors result in positive outcomes, they will become part of the culture and, in turn, become the accepted way things are done.  Eventually, they will move into the collective subconscious as a way that people behave without needing to even really think about it.

When all is said and done, you can’t force innovation in an organization whose culture doesn’t value it. On its best day, it would be an uphill battle and, on it’s worst day, could leave people frustrated, exhausted and confused.  There is no silver bullet solution when attempting to evolve and organization to be more innovative.  Those organizations that are interested in driving innovative behavior should spend less on outfitting meeting rooms with Koosh Balls and more time understanding their cultures, their values, and how those are driving their performance.

This article originally appeared on Forbes