6 Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation

Claire Hastwell

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“Innovation comes ultimately from a diversity of perspectives. So when you combine ideas from different industries or different cultures, that’s when you have the best sense of developing groundbreaking ideas.” – Frans Johansson

Frans Johansson knows what we have known at Great Place to Work® for 30 years – inclusive workplace practices are core to creating a culture of innovation. This proven philosophy is what we call Innovation By All™ – when leaders cultivate the intelligence, skills, and passion of everyone in the organization. Everybody creates, everybody is connected and everybody contributes.

In our ongoing annual research on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For®, we found six practices that cultivate this inclusive, innovative workplace environment.

How to create a culture of innovation in the workplace

1. Give all types of space

Leading companies make space for more than work. They create mental, emotional and temporal space. Space for employees to be creative, take risks and come up with ideas that advance the organization.

At Better.com, this space has a name. Alex, D’Amico, VP of people at Better, is a debunker of work-life balance. “I think it’s a misnomer,” Alex says. “I think that expecting to work 40 to 50 to 60 hours a week, whatever you work, and have a balanced life is never going to happen. You’re setting yourself up for failure.”

Instead of pushing this false balance on employees, Better.com encourages “work-life harmony.” Alex says they ask employees, “what do you need in your life to have a harmonized work-life experience?”

Employees at Better.com said what they need right now is social connection. So, the company provided space for teams to get together virtually in ways that have nothing to do with work.

2. Create energy by thanking all

Recognizing everyone for their efforts, not just their outcomes, doesn’t dilute the idea. Instead, it acts as a fertilizer. It energizes individuals and the entire organization. And encourages people to keep contributing. The enthusiasm around trying to make things better is infectious and fun. And that is itself a catalyst for creativity.

Energy reverbs from the words of this survey comment from an employee at OC Tanner:

This is a recognition and appreciation company. That’s our business, but we’re really good at it internally as well. The whole company sees it done all the time; it is not contrived or fake, it is real and sincere. This makes all of us want to step up our game and recognize great work when and wherever we see it. This makes people kinder and more controlled as we work together shoulder to shoulder. We try to treat people as people and not as objects to walk over. Everyone is more cooperative and respectful in this company. Everyone can feel valued.

 3. Nurture diverse connections

Leading organizations build bridges, bringing people together who otherwise might never talk to each other, let alone collaborate.

Diverse team connections can see an organization through a crisis. As the world met the pandemic, Farmers Insurance CEO Jeff Dailey created a cross-functional team of leaders from human resources, government affairs, internal and external communications, legal and real estate teams to monitor the COVID-19 situation.

“The team was established with the understanding that no one person had all the answers,” a spokesperson at the company told us. Jeff made this team a priority – ensuring he was readily available, providing direct access and support to assist in immediate decision-making or offering feedback.

4. Invest in everyone’s growth

Lavishing resources only on employees who show “high potential” is misguided. It ignores the potential of others and can have unintended consequences. It often leads to feelings of frustration and favoritism.

The best leaders see the value of maximizing all human potential and help every employee develop – including developing them outside of work.

Few companies exemplify this so well as Bitwise Industries does. When asked what their secret to employee retention is, Co-founder and CEO Jake Soberal said one reason is that their company “is not tight-fisted.”

As most employees found their agency increase during the pandemic (with remote work), Bitwise were already encouraging flexibility and non-linear paths for growth and work.

“We encourage that agency and ask employees, ‘do you have a thing you want to do on the side? We really want to support that and see that succeed. Do you have a new interest that you want to explore internally? We’d like to open up channels and opportunities for you to do that.’”

This open-handed approach to training and career progression is what Jake says makes Bitwise a place where folks can see themselves navigating between roles in the company. And who do you think benefits from all that outside inspiration? The company culture.

5. Make it easy for all

Leading organizations know to leave no stone unturned. It’s not enough to put out a suggestion box. They make it simple for their people to generate ideas – and lots of them.

These companies go further by providing guidance for fleshing out a new concept. They adopt systems that allow peers to comment on and get behind promising proposals.

Texas Health Resources taps into the wisdom of employees regardless of their role. This egalitarian approach to is possible with a communication tool. Used throughout the design process, it’s called “Question & Resolve.” Employees can ask colleagues about designs until they reach mutual understanding.

6. Inspire all with purpose

Our research shows that when employees use the term “incredible” to describe their workplace – such as “incredibly hardworking environment” or “incredible company journey” – they are 81% more likely to experience meaningful innovation opportunities.

At most organizations, inspiration and purpose drop as you move down management levels. The best leaders find ways to motivate people at every layer. From those in the C-suite to employees in the warehouse.

At Playa Resorts & Hotels, purpose trickles down from leadership to frontline employees through community outreach.

The CEO at Playa “cleans the beach,” says Dayna Blank, senior vice president, human resources. “And when I say cleaning the beach, he puts on gloves and picks up trash with all of us.”

Whenever the company gets together in different countries, they plan a community service where everybody participates, no matter who they are or what they do for the company, ensuring that meaningful work is felt at all levels.

Innovation By All company cultures generate more high-quality ideas and adopt them faster. To learn more about how we can help you create an inclusive culture that cultivates innovation at all levels, get in touch with us.

Claire Hastwell

Claire Hastwell

Claire is our Content Marketing Manager. Claire works with Great Place to Work data and company culture experts to distil the psychology of high-trust workplaces. Claire co-authored the Women in the Workplace report and her profiles of Best Workplaces™ have featured in Fortune. When Claire’s not sifting through our 28+ years of survey data, she’s rolling out her yoga mat or daydreaming about her next U.S. road trip.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.