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"Culture" is one of those terms. Hard to define, but you know it when you see it, right? I mean, we all understand what we're talking about here, don't we?

I'd bet if you and I polled 10 people on the street, we'd get 10 different interpretations for culture.

In the course of my work, I often find myself working with companies that previously tried a generic open suggestion box approach to innovation. Create an ideas portal, let people post ideas spontaneously and see if anything interesting comes up. The outcome of this approach is remarkably consistent: no one bothers to do anything with the ideas. The result is a disillusioned workforce, where culture of skepticism has settled in. A good part of my work is establishing a plan for re-energizing employees.

What defines culture? Behaviors. I posted as much to Twitter:

As you can see from the retweets and favorites, that sentiment resonated with a number of people. As a follow-up to that, I want to provide more specific ways to identify the behaviors that determine success or failure in innovation.

Below are the four major categories of behaviors that affect collaborative innovation. Following a discussion of each area, there's a link to download the 25 behaviors that drive innovation success. If you're interested in analyzing your organization's collaborative innovation culture, it also includes a survey for rating your organization on each of the 25 behaviors.

1. Leadership

Leaders have a dramatic ripple effect on innovation throughout an organization.

Any discussion about organizational culture must start with executives. The plans they make, the actions they take, the clarity of their approaches...these are cues to employees about what matters. This applies to all levels of executives: c-suite, senior and mid-level.

For organizations that value collaboration and understand the tremendous asset they have in their own workforce, the actions by executives throughout the organization are key to motivating employees. Without leadership's positive behaviors, innovation becomes the province of only the well-connected and individual superheroes.

Key leadership areas that affect collaborative innovation success:

  • Clarity of purpose
  • Commitment to initiatives
  • Openness to diverse opinions

In the 25 behaviors that impact innovation success, 7 fall under the Leadership category.

2. Awareness

The process of gaining share of mind.

Meetings. Phone calls. Powerpoints. Client visits. Project work. Deadlines. The daily pace of work demands attention and focus. It's into this environment that collaborative innovation enters. There is definitely capacity among employees to participate. I know this, because I get to see it all the time. But there's an issue of share of mind.

An acid test of awareness is this. If someone were to ask a randomly selected employee in your organization what they know about your innovation program, what would they say?

  • Do they know it exists?
  • How it works?
  • What results it's delivered?

In the 25 behaviors that impact innovation success, 4 fall under the Awareness category. 

3. Employee Engagement

Engagement makes employees' creativity and insights available to the innovation program.

When I kick off a consulting engagement with clients, I will note this about innovation programs: They are people-driven efforts. Which I admit sounds rather shopworn, in an overused "social business, empowered employees" sense. But I use the observation to draw a contrast to other software-supported initiatives. Like accounts receivable processing. A/R is about standard rules, and maximizing processing efficiency.

With collaborative innovation, the key inputs are the ideas, the perspectives, knowledge and judgment of employees. The willingness to provide these precious assets to a company depends on how confident people feel that:

  • It's accepted to participate
  • Their contributions will be taken seriously
  • Their participation will be a positive experience, whatever the outcome

In the 25 behaviors that impact innovation success, 5 fall under the Employee Engagement category.

4. Innovation Governance

Innovation governance is the process of turning ideas into action.

As I mentioned at the start, a classic failure in corporate innovation programs is the unattended idea portal. The site where employees post ideas...and nothing else happens. An idea graveyard, where ideas die a quiet, solitary death. Quite sad, as it's a killer to the credibility and utility of the innovation program.

Successful companies, those that generate results year after year, do things differently. They approach innovation as a broader process that spans innovation needs to ideation to assessment to selection to development. I've heard that sort of rigor described as ham-handed red-tape that strangles innovation. Not at all. The actual threat is the absence of any plan for moving ideas into innovations that can be iterated and experimented, and scaled when they're ready. Governance ensures that innovation isn't a random draw from the deck, but something that is planned and sought.

With a solid plan for innovation governance, organizations:

  • Understand how they will address ideas generated by employees
  • Ensure innovation doesn't fall through the gaps
  • Create bases for analyzing performance and identifying fixes where needed

In the 25 behaviors that impact innovation success, 9 fall under the Innovation Governance category.

Rate your own organization's innovation culture

In its 2014 report on the Most Innovative Companies, Boston Consulting Group found the following (pdf):

Successful innovators, both strong and breakthrough, work hard to make sure that the value of innovation is reflected in their corporate cultures and that they are organized to move new ideas forward. Innovation is recognized and rewarded at these companies.

Worth repeating: The value of innovation is reflected in their corporate cultures.

The four categories of collaborative innovation culture described above represent 25 different behaviors that drive success or failure. Recognizing that just stating these categories is insufficient for assessing your organization's culture, we've created a diagnostic survey. The survey is yours to use for your own purposes. What you get with it:

  • The 25 behaviors that define collaborative innovation culture.
  • With each behavior, there is a rating scale from -2 to +2. Specific examples of negative and positive behaviors will guide you in rating your organization.
  • At the end of the diagnostic survey, a table lets you map your organization's score to an overall assessment: Exceptional, Satisfactory, Average, Underperforming, Ineffective.
  • Based on that assessment, actions are recommended to enhance your organization's capabilities in collaborative innovation.
To get your diagnostic survey, just click the big blue button below.

Download the free culture assessment tool

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Hutch Carpenter

Hutch Carpenter

Hutch is working with major companies on excelling their innovation and problem-solving capabilities through social and crowdsourcing principles. With each client he helps to develop a rigorous approa