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Innovation – a nuisance?

Organizations must therefore develop routines for systematic innovation. And this requires a corporate culture that is open to new ideas. And not just once a year, but on an ongoing basis.

The ability to innovate also means adopting new ideas from outside. What role would some companies play on the market today if they had ignored the first waves of digitalization and automation? That's easy to say now that typewriters belong in museums and pretty much all work is done on computers instead.

Every organization has its share of Luddites among the staff. After all, innovation is not part of day-to-day business yet should still be part of daily work, which is why innovations can be perceived as disruptive or annoying.

Admittedly, there are areas in which it is good to be a little more cautious about new things. The success of industrial companies in particular is usually based on a tradition of very high quality standards.  For new developments, it is important to keep risks as low as possible. This has an impact on the culture of innovation. One example is the sensor technology manufacturer Balluff. Roland Schaefer, Vice President of Innovation Management at Balluff, explained at a panel discussion at one of our events why he considers ambidexterity to be important in this context. Behind this is the ability of companies to be both efficient and innovative. Processes and efficiency are indispensable in day-to-day business and form the basis for the success of products. But the ability to innovate is just as important for Balluff: it secures the future. The organization must therefore allow the necessary space for both strategies to be pursued.

The way to get there is through a culture of innovation. Only an innovation-friendly and open corporate culture creates the foundation for innovation to flow.

Identifying obstacles 

The approach varies from company to company, as causes and symptoms vary. Some companies, for example, are constantly falling into a vanity trap: blinded by their own core competencies, they overlook potential and opportunities. Others, on the other hand, struggle with interpersonal conflicts over whose idea it is that gets chosen.

No matter what inhibits your innovative strength, it can always be traced back to your culture of innovation. It influences the relationships and behavior of employees, both inside and outside the organization. And this is the basic prerequisite for employees to be curious about how they can improve their workplace through new ideas.

As a fictitious example, a company launches a pilot project on exoskeletons to evaluate their use in a specific field of application. But the project doesn't get off to a good start; the staff are skeptical. One person appears to be sowing this negativity among the team. For project management, there can only be one reason: this stubborn individual's narrow-mindedness is preventing anything new from happening!

It certainly looks like this at first glance. But if you take a closer look, you may realize that it is due to the culture of innovation. There is a strong do-it-yourself culture in this company. The reaction merely reflects the unspoken credo.

Neither progress nor tradition are created overnight. A culture of innovation, whether beneficial or inhibiting, develops over years. The established and unspoken values, norms, and attitudes influence how employees think about change and new things and ultimately how they act.

Can, want, may

Will alone does not turn an idea into an innovation. In addition to willingness, you need the skills and opportunities. An innovative manager knows how to create and promote the necessary framework conditions. She provides the scope for experimentation and further development. He promotes cooperation and motivates staff. It's about creating a setting where employees can, want, and may.

Vivawest is a good example of cultural work combined with competence building. The housing provider from North Rhine-Westphalia regularly trains junior managers to promote creative skills. The fact that innovation has a high priority in the company is also evident in terms of the layout. The top floor of Vivawest's headquarters is not reserved for senior management, and is instead offered to the entire workforce as infrastructure to be innovative. Combined with the annual innovation training courses, this sends out a clear signal.

Taking managerial responsibility

From a management perspective, it is important to both generate and integrate knowledge so that innovation becomes part of everyday working life. This requires open and closed strategies for action. Just like day-to-day business, the capacity for innovation requires binding rules and clear processes so that new things can be created or adopted. Such structures promote the integration of knowledge. At the same time, freedom and autonomy must be granted for the generation of knowledge. That might sound like two contradictory strategies, but the can be combined.

A few years ago, storage system manufacturer Kardex Remstar initiated its first internal ideas competition with an "Innovation Award". Employees around the world were able to participate and were professionally supported in the development of ideas. This turned ideas into promising innovation concepts, which were then evaluated by the management team and approved for implementation. The initiative has created freedoms and structures. This has enabled the company to increase its own innovative strength. Yet if the company's culture had not been in line with the strategy, all efforts in this direction would have been doomed to failure.

Failure as an opportunity for learning and development

For innovation to become routine, top management must provide a framework. Management must be prepared to take risks and see failure as an opportunity for learning and development. This gives middle managers the scope to create a safe and respectful climate for innovation - and then innovation will no longer be a nuisance.

An innovation-friendly corporate culture is not a luxury. In a world characterized by volatility and rapid change, it is a must. Those who fail to act risk the future viability of their own company.

Sources:

Hauschildt/Salomo/Schultz/Kock (2016): Innovationsmanagement.

Tidd/Bessant (2013): Managing Innovation – Integrating Technological, Market and Organizational Change.

What is innovation? https://www.lead-innovation.com/en/insights/english-blog/what-is-innovation-culture

 

Doris Könighofer

Doris is Head of Marketing & Communication at Lead Innovation. She combines her knowledge of innovation management with journalistic experience in the technology sector. With networked thinking, she brings in different perspectives and has an eye for relevant contexts. As a communications expert, she is particularly fascinated by the communication that takes place around innovations and innovation projects.

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