The Ingredients for Building an Innovation Culture

In today’s dynamic business environment, every organisation must continuously change to stay competitive. How do you maintain the advantage on your competitors? If you can’t make it as a market leader, make sure you at least stay on par with competitors. How? It starts by thinking tactically and strategically from an innovative angle. You are never alone in an ecosystem. Competitors, customers, suppliers, employees and other stakeholders, they are all influenced by the way you act and the other way around. The dynamics of the environment that surrounds your business should be defining how you set up your processes. This ecosystem requires you to clearly position yourself. As an innovative business you should outline who you want to be and define how leading you want your role to be in the market. Looking at the innovation culture you want to build, what place in the ecosystem will suit your business best?

Strategies for building a culture for innovation describes a nice framework that contain the following strategies:

  • Give people a sense of ownership
  • Change constantly
  • Hire upwards
  • Know when to move quickly
  • Make everyone guardian of the product
  • Protect the culture.
  • At first sight it looks like a framework that would only be applicable to small businesses. In an ideal market situation it would be, but a lot of large companies are still behind in developing an inspiring culture that is covering innovation. So, for those organisations this framework could be a great basis too. Being an innovative company is hard due to the continuous effort needed. It is a cycle in which improvement of the innovation culture and process should never stop. A successful innovation ecosystem goes beyond that, it demands much more. It requires partnerships , so it will also benefit people outside your company. There is no me, there is only we in an ecosystem. When building an innovative culture, you need to take that into account.

    The role of culture

    When companies are founded you often see that there is an important factor that is highly underestimated. The assumption that people have that same dedication and spirit towards your product is as hazardous as the entrepreneurship itself. To bring a company to life, an inspirational atmosphere, coherent collaboration and an attractive workplace is crucial. Culture is as important as it is hard to build. Credits for cultural successes are mostly attributed to the internal organisation. However, culture influences the relationship people have with your organisation, your products and your brand. This means while setting up your processes, you shouldn’t forget the effect it has on the outside world. The essence of an innovation culture lies within the way it is approached:

    Culture is an invisible line that connects leadership and talent—engraved in authentic values, unmatched toughness, and a contagious spirit. Often an organization’s culture is seen as an inward-focused energy that only concerns its employees or members. But, culture is also an outward exuberance spanning customers, partners, and ecosystems that believe in it as much as the citizens and creators of that vision.” (Kaan Turnali – SAP)

    Before you start changing, make an effort to understand the history and traditions that anchor the current culture. Do not take them for granted, when people feel closely connected you will lose a lot of engagement before you even started your cultural change programme. If you want to make change happen, make sure your story inspires and explains what is in it for every party involved. Ensure that every employee understands the place in this ecosystem you want to position your organisation in. Don’t just transmit, listen to the stories your employees tell you. These stories probably contain great ideas. Create an environment where everyone feels they have a chance to speak up. Being heard creates a sense of ownership and empowerment to change from the bottom up.


    In almost all cases, culture shift starts with leaders and their vision. Be convinced of your own vision. Carry out your thoughts and opinions. Life by them and collect supporters amongst management and employees. It is important to get the buy-in from all involved people within the organisation in this early stage. If you are able to let your vision shape the role you want your business to play in the ecosystem, the largest part of your process set up is already identified. Fill in that role by strategies that drive innovation as a natural part of your business. Who are your customers? Listen to them. You need to know how you can engage your customers in the product innovation.

    Who are your competitors? Watch them, but don’t copy blindly. Stay true to your vision. And let (potential) customers tell you what improvements and innovations are needed. When you are true to your own believes, followers will connect with you and start incorporating your vision as loyal collaborators. To maintain the advantage on your competitors, you need to use your customers’ engagement to differentiate yourself.


    Share results. What was the result of all the effort employees have put in a project? Or what are the outcomes of the panel discussion or questionnaire customers and suppliers took part in? Most important of all, share successes! Credit others for their contribution, than they will keep on helping you being successful. This is an important pillar for innovation. Of course, there will always be that moment that you are disappointed by someone. Don’t let it be a reason to stop sharing.

    An innovative culture doesn’t grow overnight, it is something that needs to grow over a longer period. It is important leaders define the desired place in the ecosystem, than both set up the business and steer their own behaviour accordingly to begin with. What the end goal would be? Well, when people think of your brand, what role should they connect you with and what would your added value within the ecosystem be?