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Is corporate culture stifling innovation?

by Staff GBAF Publications Ltd
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By: Tony Lysak, Founder and CEO,The Software Institute

The term ‘innovation’ has rapidly become one of the most exhausted buzzwords in business – finding its way in boardrooms, conferences and internal staff team meetings, it’s almost impossible to avoid. This is essentially due to the simple fact that businesses are desperately seeking new ways to improve what they do and importantly, how they do it.

Corporates are keen to boast about their shift in values, and focus on inspiring innovation and creativity, investing huge funds into innovation teams and programmes to do so, yet businesses just aren’t seeing the impact they want – so, why is this?

The biggest challenge: Middle management

The pursuit for rapid innovation is all well and good, but if the right processes for creating and implementing new ideas are not in place, then any room for innovation is likely to get lost in a web of email chains, inefficient processes, and reporting. The reality is that most corporations are failing at the middle management level, where a combination of outdated processes and lack of collaboration hinders growth and stifles development.

Many managers strive towards the idea of innovation in theory but ironically, fail in practice due to risk-averse attitudes and restrictive internal processes, delaying advancements. These barriers are the real cause of the problem. Companies, particularly large ones, must identify anti-innovation behaviours and change leaders’ mindsets.

They must create new structures to open up an engaging and constructive environment that cultivates innovation and fast-tracks exciting ideas. Corporates must inspire management to throw out the rule book and take risks. They must overcome nervousness to make big changes and be ready to fail along the way because fundamentally, the long-term benefits of unearthing a great area for innovation will outweigh the odd unsuccessful project.

Importantly, middle management must rethink legacy processes that are preventing independent thinking and collaboration from junior staff right through to senior level. Organisations must ditch the bureaucracy, listen to their teams, and be ready to take chances. After all, junior members working within the organisation often have better oversight of areas of a business that need modernising, and are more in tune with specific digital solutions that could support and improve business efficiencies.  This can often be threatening to middle-management where is should be embraced, encouraged and progressed.

Key drivers for innovation: Communication and collaboration

Ask any executive what is standing in their way of innovation and they’ll say a lack of time, fear of suggesting the wrong idea, poor collaboration, and lack of infrastructure for bringing ideas to fruition.

The cliche saying goes ‘no idea is a bad idea’ and it is certainly true when it comes to driving forward innovations. Companies must look to overhaul hierarchical structures which have long overstayed their welcome by promoting free thinking and insights from those across the entire organisation. By opening up streams of communication with different perspectives, leaders will know how to help in the best possible way, meaning the most thoughtful and important ideas will emerge. When companies are aligned internally, they are better able to innovate across all areas of the business from security to automation.

To see real advances, corporates must of course, find new ways for teams to collaborate and work together efficiently to execute an idea. Corporations must assess workloads and dedicate time for staff to think independently, possibly on a Friday when pressure tends to be reduced so that when teams do collaborate, it is constructive with real outcomes. Dysfunctional meetings are one of the major blockers that hinder business efficiencies and innovation but by allowing internal teams the time to brainstorm or plan prior to any meetings, the meeting is more efficient and there is no lost time ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ or ‘this meeting could have been an email’ mentalities.

Once teams do regroup, it’s important there is a strong structure in place to bring those ideas to fruition. Corporate teams are used to delivering and executing projects in a standard and predictable way but for teams to feel inspired, these processes must be thrown out the window. Staff must be encouraged to collaborate on different areas, think outside the box and share their ideas with senior staff in their own way. By doing so, employees will also feel heard and valued in terms of the impact they can make on a company’s direction and growth. Hence, this approach will not only inspire innovation, but attract new staff and boost employee retention rates too.

Rather than pushing more innovation programmes, companies need to address the issue at its roots. Ultimately, if companies are to remain competitive, they must overcome corporate culture roadblocks or they risk stagnating.