Business-woman-lightbulb_WebAccording to a study done by Adobe, 80% of people surveyed in the US and UK reported increasing pressure to be productive, rather than creative, at work. At the same time, companies are aggressively implementing formal innovation programs and finding ways to recognize and reward their employees who come up with and pursue innovative ideas.

While it’s not impossible to be productive AND creative at the same time, being truly creative requires time to think, to explore, and to create. Nothing kills creativity (and productivity for that matter) faster than an environment where employees work in firefighting mode and rush from one meeting to the next. Most of us can easily identify the elements of an environment that kills creativity, but it’s more difficult to describe an environment where creativity can flourish.

Thought Ensemble recently hosted our first Thought Crunch event with the intent of having our internal teams work on big ideas that could benefit our clients. Five ideas were defined in advance and each Thought Ensemble member chose an idea to support and became a part of that team. I was fortunate to end up with an awesome team of creative thinkers (thanks Lauren Malik, Dan Weaver, and Parimal Patel) and we set out to answer the burning question of how companies can create an environment and culture where creativity and innovation can flourish.

Our team ultimately came up with a four-part approach intended to help our clients understand the existing level of creativity and innovation within their organization and then to help develop the transformation vision and plan for an environment where creativity and innovation can thrive. I’ll dive deep into each of these four areas in future blog posts, but have included the highlights below.

Step 1 – Assess your existing culture

Before attempting to change your culture it’s important to understand and measure your starting point. Gathering clear baseline measurements and setting targets for the future will allow you to tailor your transformation plan to your specific areas of improvement and to measure the impact of your transformation work. Input and data may be gathered in executive interviews, workshops, employee interviews, and/or an employee survey. Some topics to consider as part of your assessment include:

  • Executive commitment to creativity and innovation – are executives willing to commit time and money to innovation? Does the executive team openly dedicate time to thought and creation? Are risks embraced and rewarded as part of the creative process?
  • Work environment – are employees comfortable blocking time on their calendar to think? How much free time or margin exists within their schedules? Are there quiet places employees can go to support independent thinking?
  • Performance management – how are employees measured today? What kind of behaviors are rewarded and recognized? Do incentives tie to the behaviors you want to encourage?
  • Processes and communication – are employees aware of the need for innovation? Do they know where and how to submit ideas? What happens once ideas are submitted?

Step 2 – Define your desired future state or vision

Once the perceptions and realities of your current culture and environment are understood you are better equipped to paint the picture of what your organization will look and feel like with an increased focus on creativity and innovation. The focus during this step should be on visioning – not planning. Questions to consider as you define your vision include:

  • Why do you want to increase creativity and innovation within your organization?
  • What impact will this have on your core business?
  • What changes will you see as your team begins to focus more in these areas?
  • What behaviors do you need to demonstrate as a leader in this new environment?
  • What does the future state look and feel like? How does it change the way you work?
  • What behaviors or cultural norms exist in your organization today that support this vision and should be encouraged? What behaviors and cultural norms exist in your organization today that don’t support this vision and need to change?

Step 3 – Plan and implement tools and practices

The right mix of tools and practices should be based on the gaps identified during your assessment and the vision for how the organization will look and feel in the future. Some common problems and practices to consider are included below.

  • Problem: Employees don’t have time for creative thinking/innovation
  • Solutions to consider:
    • Dedicated innovation time – provide employees with dedicated time each week to experiment with new ideas
    • Innovation days – implement days where the entire company focuses on innovation and pursues creative ideas
    • Limit meetings – encourage employees to challenge whether they really need to attend meetings and limit the amount of time/number of participants, wherever possible, to free up time for creative thought
  • Problem: Employees don’t know what innovation means or how to do it
  • Solutions to consider:
    • Innovation definition – clearly define what innovation means for your company and why innovation is critical
    • Innovation process – implement and promote an idea generation and innovation process
    • Recognize innovation – look for examples of innovation to highlight and promote within the organization
  • Problem: Employees are afraid to take risks
  • Solutions to consider:
    • Redefine success – ensure that your definition of success includes, not only successful ideas and projects, but also those that may have had challenges or failures that led to important learning
    • Model risk taking – if employees see their managers taking risks they will be more likely to do so themselves

Implementing your vision will also likely involve rethinking some core parts of your organization, including performance measurements, rewards and incentives, processes, policies and procedures, perhaps even the layout of your office and the way your team communicates.

Step 4 – Measure your results

Cultural transformation doesn’t end with encouraging new behaviors and implementing programs and tools. Revisit the targets that you set during the assessment phase and measure how you are performing against those targets. Consider the areas where gaps remain and evaluate the practices that have been put in place. Achieving successful cultural transformation requires frequent measurement and a willingness to change course if things aren’t working.

We’re continuing to build and pilot this approach and I’m interested to hear from those of you who are currently working to achieve this transformation within your organization. Is it working? What results have you achieved? What barriers have you encountered and how have you dealt with them? For those who haven’t even begun, what are the challenges that keep your teams from innovating today?