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The Five Ways Organization Development can Deliver an Innovative Culture

by Tiffany Yates, PhD, OD Network Member and Trustee, and Christen Miller

Many organizations struggle with the concept of establishing innovation as bottom-line component of the corporate environment. While these organizations are starting to realize that if they don’t innovate, they will stagnate—actually achieving a culture that promotes innovation and leads the charge in their field proves to be more challenging than successful.

The field of Organization Development (OD) consistently seeks unique approaches to help their organization achieve a sustainable innovative culture. OD practitioners can provide organizations an impactful systematic approach to layers innovation into all aspects of how people approach work. Our goal is to provide OD practitioners with a top 5 ways we have seen OD accelerate an intentional culture that promotes innovation at all levels of the organization.

  1. Don’t be a Culture Chameleon
    Organizations benefit from innovation with OD culture interventions that do not mimic other cultural fads. Often, company leaders will leverage jargon without applications of how the values and behaviors are applied by employees on the job. Many organizations want to have cultures similar to Google, Apple, and Amazon; what they fail to realize is that those cultures were grown organically and intentionally designed to create calculated outcomes. Trying to mimic another company’s culture just because it is popular often results in a disappointing outcome. Organizations should delineate what outcomes they desire from a culture, define how culture can create those outcomes, create a roadmap of how to change culture over time, and implement the plan to do so. If you want an innovative culture, then intentionally design your company culture around it.

  2. Use a Total Rewards Philosophy
    It is critical that OD leverages rewards and recognition programs to build out a total rewards philosophy that motivate employees to take action on advancing an innovative culture. Incentivize and reward behaviors and accomplishments that encourage or promote modernization and progress.

    Some organizations choose to host innovation drives with awards for those with the best ideas. These awards come in forms of extra vacation days or a monetary payout—with the extra ability to lead or participate in the effort to implement their idea if it is chosen. An example of this is at Bank of America, who implemented a “Simplify and Improve” (SIM) program in 2015 to gather ideas from front-line employees on ways they could simplify daily processes. Millions of dollars were earmarked to fund the winning efforts. Dozens of ideas were chosen and turned into projects that sparked innovation, simplified operations, and ultimately saved the bank money in the end. Those who generated the winning ideas were recognized company-wide and rewarded in various manners.

  3. Deploy Diversity
    Don’t let the recruiting team be your diversity delivery method. Think about how diversity fuels innovation across the entire employee lifecycle. Those from different backgrounds can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table, creating far more innovative teams than before. Create diversity plans at all levels:

    1. Macro Diversity: system-wide efforts in leadership development, talent succession plans, and diversity recruitment and retention.
    2. Micro Diversity: working with the business units to implement cross functional work teams and leveraging skills and working styles that promote higher job performance.
  4. Encourage Risk Taking
    This idea may be contrary to what you normally hear in the workplace; often organizations have so many rules and governance that employees don’t feel they can truly be innovative. We aren’t suggesting that organizations throw their rules out the window—but creating space for employees to take a few risks may result in innovative practices, processes, and idea generation.

  5. Create Innovation Centers of Excellence
    Centers of Excellence (COEs) are centralized teams that hold expertise centrally for all lines of business within an organization. In support of this approach, the Center of Excellence is typically staffed with subject matter experts that provide the entire organization with oversight, a body of knowledge, and community which are all focused on creative progress and ingenuity.

  6. In summary, OD practitioners can have a direct effect on creating a culture that promotes innovation and directly affects the bottom line. Promoting innovation can help an organization improve productivity, reduce costs, be more competitive, build brand value, establish new partnerships and relationships and improve profitability. In contrast, businesses that fail to innovate run the risk of: losing market share to competitors, decreasing productivity and efficiency, increasing turnover of key personnel, experiencing steadily reducing margins and profit and most frighteningly: going out of business.

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