Innovation is high on the agenda for organisations, and a significant amount of investment is being put behind developing this discipline. Seugnet van den Berg, Managing Director at consulting firm Bizmod, says that despite this, many companies are making the mistake of trying to embed innovation as a capability and are failing to pay attention to the organisational culture.

Out of all the company assets people are responsible for innovation and then for implementing and executing the changes. “Management is failing to evaluate the behaviour of the employees and the company culture when implementing innovative hubs, processes and mechanisms,” says van den Berg. Despite investing in beautiful facilities and technology to track the progress of ideas or processes used, if the culture of the organisation is not geared towards capabilities that support innovation, it will not be successful.

Large organisations are historically managed in silos with separate, confined views of their objectives. The silo view creates competition of the underlying operational mode and this in turn influences the culture of the organisation and behavioural patterns of the employees. The required operational mode for innovation to thrive is one of – amongst others – collaboration, not competition.

Companies that have a culture of risk-taking, learning, collaboration and exploring are more conducive environments for innovation and collaboration. It is in these environments that you see incremental, disruptive and radical change taking place. Van den Berg says that if culture is not considered as an essential building block to establishing innovation, incremental change is all that will be achieved, despite the investment.

An organisation in which innovation thrives is typically not limited by bureaucracy, risk aversion and slow decision-making processes. A culture of learning, acceptance of failure and risk and being able to stray from the traditional process all work together to create an innovative culture. “Outside the box” in the case of innovation for traditional organisations might just mean “outside the organisation”.

Van den Berg points out that some organisations just don’t have the right foundation for innovation. The investment required to create the changes in this type of organisation as well as the time required will just be too much and too long. In these cases one solution is to take innovation outside of the company all together. This can be achieved by moving the innovation capability outside of the organisation and in this way avoiding contamination by the company culture. Van den Berg concludes, “Create an organisation in which innovation will thrive outside of the existing company and then work together to integrate this into the organisation.”

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